Monday, March 24, 2014

High School Musicals!


I seem to have been spending a lot of time in the mid-twentieth century over the past several months, beginning with my book How I Grew Up, continuing with Eli’s Heart (my second novel, which is waiting for me to re-read … kind of a daunting prospect), and a high school production of the musical Bye Bye Birdie. A different kind of visit to the days of rock ‘n’ roll, a spoof on Elvis Presley’s being drafted into the Army.

Bye Bye Birdie is a kinder, gentler version of Grease, the musical that seems the one most people favor that tries to recreate that era. I like the characters in Birdie. There are nice teenagers and bewildered parents. Conrad Birdie (a play on the name of an Elvis wannabee, Conway Twitty … whatever happened to him, anyway?) is really a delightful character who gets to rock his way through some pretty nifty tunes. It’s a super high-energy show and the cast of our production had a great time over performance weekend. The audiences had a good time. It was funny, silly, goofy and just plain old-fashioned fun.

I’ve been directing musicals since 1984, and for the first time EVER I missed both dress rehearsals of a production. I was hit with one of the worst cases of flu I’ve ever had in my life. I dragged myself to the first two tech rehearsals to be sure all the tech elements were in place (avoiding the cast as much as I could), and then went home and hardly moved for two days. I hoped to get to the final dress, but I was still feverish, achy and having chills, and it was a miserable night, chilly and rainy. I had a great time opening night seeing how far the show had come over those two final rehearsals. They always do. I’m lucky enough to have terrific theater techs, a wonderful directing staff, and great kids who know how to give the audience a show they thoroughly enjoy.

Being back at the high school for the performances was a good thing. Teens … at least the teenagers I work with in musicals … are pretty great young men and women. I appreciated their excitement, enthusiasm, and energy, and I started to feel better as soon as I walked into the school. They put on one heck of a show, for sure … and they did it for three days, impressing me and every other adult who was part of the production with their consistency.  Every audience saw a fine performance.

Illness has been rampant in our high school this long, dreary winter, but every kid was on stage for all three performances and they seemed great at the cast party afterwards. We’ll all miss the eleven seniors in the cast … some of whom have been in the productions for all four of their high school years, quite a feat because these are some of the busiest kids in the school. It’s been fun to watch them grow as performers and as young men and women over these years. At least a couple of them are planning to major in theater or musical theater in college. I wish them the very best.

They are bright, talented, focused, and energetic. So are the thousands of other graduating seniors with the same hopes and dreams. They will always find some way to enjoy their love of theater and of performing, whether professionally (which is at best a very long shot) or in community productions in the future. Or maybe … just maybe … directing other high school students someday. It is well worth the time and effort, and one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.