DOVER — Dover High School is going back in time this weekend with its performance of the rollicking musical-comedy “Bye Bye Birdie.”
“Even though it was written in 1958 and based on Elvis Presley being drafted, it’s a fun piece that still has a wide appeal,” said director Paul Janiga.
“Bye Bye Birdie” is Mr. Janiga’s directorial debut at Dover High, but he’s no amateur, having acted and directed with the Kent County Theatre Guild since the early 1980s.
“It’s different to work with all students but I’m fortunate because all these kids are super,” he said. “They’re all dedicated and energetic. The most difficult part has been getting everyone to rehearsal because all the kids are involved in so many activities.”
And it isn’t just actors involved in other activities, it’s the musicians too. “Birdie” has a live score played by members of Dover High’s music department.
“It’s my first time directing for a musical,” said band director Garrett George. “All the musicians signed up just for fun, but I don’t know if they realized what a commitment it would be. They’re all doing great, though.”
Junior Christopher Gleasher was one of the band members who stepped up to volunteer for the musical.
“I’ve been playing percussion since fifth grade and this is a good challenge,” he said. “The music is difficult and exciting and it’s been fun to work with a live performance. We’re all used to just playing music but now we’re listening to dialogue and waiting for cues.”
Classic songs in the show include “The Telephone Hour,” “Kids” and “Put on a Happy Face.”
The original 1960 Broadway production won the Tony Award and spawned the popular 1963 film starring Dick Van Dyke, Ann-Margret, Janet Leigh and Paul Lynde.
The Elvis-like teen heartthrob of the musical is Conrad Birdie, a character played by first-time actor, freshman Xavier Fagans.
“I decided to try out because I’ve always wanted to have the experience of being on stage in a performance like this,” Xavier said.
“I’ve been singing since first grade so the singing isn’t all that difficult but acting is different than just singing.
“I’m excited to show everyone what I can do.”
Another singer turned first-time actor is senior Yadiana Ramos, playing the part of Kim MacAfee — the focus of Conrad’s “One Last Kiss” performance — a last-minute publicity stunt before Conrad is sent to war.
“My best friend suggested auditioning so I did,” she said. “And I’ve been singing for a long time and have made All=State but I’ve only ever been an extra in a performance like this before.”
All the performers in “Bye Bye Birdie” aren’t only acting and singing, they’re dancing too, which is a first for many.
“There’s definitely a lot of people in the show who are new to dancing and when I found out what the show would be, I recruited some of my dancers to audition,” said Audrey Greene, Capital School District’s first full-time dance teacher and the choreographer of the show.
“But the diverse mix of levels of experience have actually turned out great,” she said. “Those who are experienced and quick at learning choreography have been more than willing to help the others and I think the teamwork has made it easier on all of us.”
Alyssa Perez, a senior playing the role of Rosie Alvarez, who comes up with the publicity stunt, is one of the experienced performers leading the way for the others.
“I’ve been acting for about four years — it started when I did a musical in middle school and I fell in love with it,” she said. “And I love this musical. I listened to the soundtrack and knew it would be a fun show. The actress who played this role on Broadway (Chita Rivera) has been a real inspiration to me too.”
Alyssa, who has won local and regional vocal competitions, has a solo performance of “Spanish Rose” during the show where she takes the stage singing and dancing.
“It doesn’t make me nervous at all because it’s what I love to do,” she said. “I’m hoping to major in musical theater in college.”
Lamont Pierce, another senior, who plays Albert Peterson, Conrad Birdie’s manager, is looking forward to following musical theater in college as well.
He recently performed the role of The Beast in Clear Space Production’s “Beauty and the Beast” in Rehoboth Beach.
“So far, all the colleges I’ve applied to, I’ve been looking into their acting programs because I love theater and want to keep doing it,” he said. “It’s been a great time here at Dover High, though. It’s bittersweet, I think I’ll miss this stage forever.”
Other students in the cast include Reginald Daniel and Carolyn Lewis as Kim’s parents; Maya Bythwood as Randi, Kim’s younger sister; Carly LePore as Ursula, Kim’s best friend, and Amanda Alliance as Mrs. Mae Peterson, Albert’s mother.
“Bye Bye Birdie” will be performed tonight at 7 and Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Dover High School Theater, off Del. 8.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $6 for students. They will be available at the box office beginning an hour before each performance or by calling (302) 241-2400.
Ashton Brown is a freelance writer living in Dover.