Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bye, Bye Birdie - How Plaza Theatre Company and Plaza Academy Create Magic That Lingers Well Beyond The Finale

Bye, Bye Birdie will always be one of my favorite shows.  I love the award nominated movie musical version of Birdie that helped put Ann-Margret on course to become a box office star and teen idol.

Conrad Birdie (BRANDON MCCORMICK) sings Sincere to star-struck citizens of Sweetapple

One of my favorite parts has always been Hymn for a Sunday Evening, aka The Ed Sullivan Show Song. See the photo of me wearing an awesome green vintage dress and singing that song? I LOVE the costumes in our show!!  The costumer even allowed me to alter the green dress myself.  For some tips about altering and repairing vintage clothing and theatre costumes, check out the Vintage Dress Alteration Tutorial.

Mayor's Family in Hymn for a Sunday Evening - Mayor's Wife (ME), Mayor's Daughters (KYLIE and TESS SCARBOROUGH), Mayor (KYLE SCARBOROUGH) and Mayor's son/Hugo Peabody (JESSE BOWRON)

HUBBY and I bought Bye, Bye Birdie! on DVD when our family was young. We have fond memories of watching it together as a family.


It was exciting to learn that Plaza Theatre Company, in conjunction with Plaza Academy, was producing Bye, Bye Birdie for their annual Summer Camp Show.

Plaza always puts on a great show.  The Summer Camp Show is particularly special.  Teenagers who've spent time training at Plaza Academy Summer Camp become part of the cast and are incorporated into the show.

Camp kids join the cast for big show numbers like Lotta Livin'

For some of the students, this is their first time to appear onstage in a live musical theatre production - an absolutely tremendous educational experience!  Certainly many youth cast members will carry the memories of Birdie with them forever.

Pop Phone

The "Telephone Hour" musical number included many of the youth cast members.  They used these iPhone accessories called Pop Phones as props. Adorable!

STORY HARRELL as dancer/teen ensemble and MOLLY MORGAN as Ursula Merkle

Being a part of Bye, Bye Birdie has been a blessing, a challenge, and a reminder for me. 

Mr. & Mrs. Macafee (AARON SILER and EMILY WARWICK) with other parents of teens perform Kids

Birdie Blessings

Some of the many blessings BIRDIE brought my way included finding new friends, connecting with other friends that I'd missed, and the joy of performing onstage for a live audience. 

The 'teen' cast is full of splendid dancers.

It is particularly joyful for me to watch the energy, excitement, and talent of the youth performers. 

 MELODY, right, NANCY and STEPHANIE rehearse Telephone Hour with the 'teen' cast.

The greatest blessing was the privilege to share the stage with my beautiful and talented youngest daughter, MELODY. What a rare opportunity it was for us - just the two of us - to spend time together and share something as special as BIRDIE.

MELODY with her fellow cast member and friend BEN MIDKIFF perform Telephone Hour as part of the 'teen' cast.

NOTE:  While many members of the 'teen' cast are actually teenagers, MELODY and a handful of other 'teen' cast members are well past their teenage years.  When I refer to them as part of the 'teen' cast, it is simply because they play their roles as teens in BIRDIE. 

Bye Bye Birdie Cast pre-show antics with ANNA LOONEY(dancer, teen ensemble), DEVLIN POLLOCK (dancer/teen ensemble), and MELODY

Birdie Challenges

The challenge involved making time for rehearsals, learning music and choreography, and trying to keep up with everything else too (full-time job, blog projects, family, teaching 10 year olds each Sunday morning, etc.).  Was it worth all the extra work?  You bet!

Bye, Bye Birdie Cast Circle - BEN, MOLLY, EMILY, DREW, and JESSE

What a special moment we experienced together as a cast and crew when everyone formed a circle around the stage prior to the start of each show.

Bye, Bye Birdie Cast Circle - JOSH, KYLE, KYLEE, TRICH, JUSTIN, MIMI, BRANDON, and AL

After announcements, we join hands and bow our heads for a moment where we can pray silently or just send love and positive energy to each other.  After that moment, a cast or crew member gets to choose a word or phrase for the day.  

PARKER BARRUS (Hugo Peabody) dances with MADELINE SMITH (Kim Macafee) and BEN MIDKIFF (Harvey Johnson) dances with ANNA LOONEY (teen ensemble, dancer) while Kim sings One Boy.

The show onstage is full of entertainment.  The lively cast members have fun, too.  There is always a flurry of activity in the ladies dressing room before, during, and after the show.  I was blessed to work with an outstanding group of talented and dynamic women.

Backstage Birdie - The ladies dressing room is busy, but we still make time to be silly and have fun. EDEN BARRUS (childrens ensemble, tap dancer) holds her bunny rabbit and has a sad face while SAMANTHA ROBINSON (adult ensemble) photo bombs in the background.

Birdie Reminders

The reminders were significant.  During a rehearsal of Put On A Happy Face, Tina Barrus, one of our Birdie directors, reminded us to smile.  Well, of course you need to smile if you're dancing and singing a song like Put On A Happy Face!  Duh!  

MELODY, ANNA, and NANCY performing with the 'teen' cast in American Boy.

However, we needed a reminder.  Some of us were putting so much focus on getting the choreography, the words, and the notes all correct and in sync...that we forgot to smile.   

American Boy performance of 'teen' cast with MELODY, TABITHA BARRUS (Gloria Rasputin/Nancy/ BIRDIE Director) , CAMERON BARRUS (dancer/teen ensemble), MICHAEL SORTER (dancer/teen ensemble), and HAYDEN CAYWOOD (tap dancer).

Tina then explained the importance of smiling during this song.  She reminded us that the audience is here to find some enjoyment.  Some of them may really need a temporary escape from the outside world.  This is a part of the show where we can bring a little joy and happiness to them.  Tina was absolutely right.

CAITLAN LEBLO (Rose Alvarez) and JOSH LEBLO (Albert Peterson)

I had the unique privilege of being in the audience on Friday, our big opening night, to observe this phenomena. ( Being 'double-cast',  I was Mayor's Wife in two of the four weekly shows and my friend Michelle Cawood was Mayor's Wife in the other two.) Seated beside me was a nice couple in their 70s that lived in in a neighboring town.  It was their first Plaza show!   

JOSH LEBLO (Albert Peterson) performs "Put on a Happy Face" with tap dancers EDEN BARRUS (tap dancer/childrens ensemble), DAVID MIDKIFF (Randolph Macafee/tap dancer), and EMMA WHITEHORN (tap dancer/childrens ensemble)

They had a wonderful time.  The Birdie cast tap-danced, sang, sparkled and smiled beautifully whilst performing Put On A Happy Face, giving the entire audience a moment of pure joy. 

TABITHA BARRUS as Gloria Rasputin and TRICH ZAITOON as Mae Peterson

The reminder was reinforced on a more personal level for me the very next night, Saturday, as we left the stage after the close of our show. At the end of each performance, Plaza cast members make two lines in the lobby to greet patrons as they exit the theatre.  For a big summer show cast, these lines extend out past the entrance doors to the sidewalk.  

Telephone Hour teen cast members including MELODY, MOLLY, ANNA, BEN, MICHAEL, and CAMERON.
Following our Saturday evening show, my daughter and I were standing beside each other in line near the open doors at Plaza's front entrance, greeting audience members and thanking them for coming to see the show.  Then we spotted two friends we recognized.  They were sisters who've been friends of ours for years. Our whole family loves them and their sweet mother and father, too. 

BIRDIE stars JOSH and TRICH as Albert and his mom, Mrs. Peterson.

As soon as I saw our friends, Tina's reminder to SMILE and bring needed joy to our audience became poignantly clear.

MADISON sings One Boy and dances with PARKER and dance ensemble including SCOUT, STOREY, DEVLIN, and NANCY.
The sisters came to see the show with their mother.  Their father, a dear and funny man who always attended Plaza Shows with the mother, was not there.   

MADISON as Kim Macafee and PARKER as Kim's boyfriend Hugo

In fact, their father had died suddenly and unexpectedly two weeks earlier.  This family had come to see our show, Bye, Bye Birdie!  Birdie could offer them a brief respite - a few hours of light-hearted entertainment.  I wish I could describe the emotion I felt, but sometimes there are no words - even for a blogger.

SCOUT HARRELL as Ursula swoons over BRANDON (Conrad Birdie) while the Macafee family, the Mayor (RICH CAWOOD) with wife Edna (MICHELLE CAWOOD) and other townspeople watch.

Supporting community theatre is vitally important.  Bringing joy and creating theatre magic provides fun for some, entertainment for others, and can even temporarily lighten a heavy load for a few souls in need of a break.

Conrad (BRANDON) sings "Sincere" at a Sweetapple gathering in his honor

FYI, Plaza isn't just another community theater.  It is a family-friendly, award winning, small-town community theatre that defied the expectations of many residents and members of the performing arts community throughout the the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area.

High energy dancers breathe life into the entire show.

Plaza opened its doors during the spring of 2007, just before the United States experienced the worst financial meltdown since The Great Depression.  While other businesses struggled, laid off workers, and declared bankruptcy, Plaza Theatre Company battled back against the odds and found ways to grow, flourish, and expand.  This gutsy start-up could have chosen a location in a much more densely populated area like the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. 

AARON as Mr. Macafee tries to eat breakfast before EMILY as Mrs. Macafee and MADISON as Kim take it away from him.

Instead, it opened in Cleburne, a place named after a Civil War general - a dusty little Texas town whose claim to fame was being a watering hole on The Chisolm Trail, a temporary camp on an old wagon trail for civil war soldiers, and eventually the county seat of Johnson County, Texas.

The Macafee Family (Kim-MADELINE, AARON-Mr. Macafee, EMILY-Mrs. Macafee, and HENRY CAWOOD-Randolph) sing Hymn For A Sunday Evening as they dream of being on the Ed Sullivan Show.

To be clear, I do love Cleburne.  I relocated here in 1980. Back then, we had one movie theater, one mall, one high school, one VFW, one Elks Lodge, and no full-time community theater capable of producing nearly a dozen consecutive plays and musicals each year. 

JUSTIN DIYER (Maude/Reporter/adult ensemble) and CRYSTAL TODD (adult ensemble) perform Kids

With the exception of honky-tonk entertainment, the only live performing arts consistently available here and based here before Plaza opened its doors in 2007 were the handful of absolutely wonderful shows produced yearly by Carnegie Players, the assortment of musical and dramatic performances put on by the high school and some of the churches.

Conrad (BRANDON) sings "One Last Kiss" to Kim (MADELINE) at a special Sweetapple segment of The Ed Sullivan Show while Mr. Macafee (AARON), Mrs. Macafee (EMILY), Randolph Macafee (DAVID), SAMANTHA (adult ensemble), and CHERIE (Mrs. Merkle) and most of the rest of the townspeople watch in adoration.

To me, the texture of Cleburne has changed so much.  In terms of cultural arts, living in Cleburne feels so much better now that  Plaza Theatre Company is here.  It's wonderful place where you can enjoy a show, volunteer, and meet friendly people.  Plaza Academy  is a great way to start or advance kids with lessons in theater arts including dance, voice, acting, etc.

CHERIE ROBINSON was Mrs. Merkle. Her daughter SAMANTHA ROBINSON was in the adult ensemble.

I love the performing arts. I'm thankful to have the opportunity to share that love with others.  Plaza believed in me enough to let me make it through the audition process and actually be cast in a few shows. 

BRANDON (Conrad) sings "Sincere" and the teens swoon.

Placing such focus on being a good mother, grandmother, wife, employee, church volunteer, etc. I almost lost touch with a big part myself...of the girl I once was.   

Conrad sings One Last Kiss to Kim as he prepares to give kiss her.

She loved to sing and dance and perform music on stage.  She dreamed of getting a college degree in music from UNT.  Overall, that is the greatest gift I've received from my association with Plaza.  

The teen ensemble with Plaza Academy students.

I reconnected with the spirit of that girl who believed in herself, her talent, her mother's advice:  You have the ability to do anything you want to do and become whoever you wish to become.  The sky is the limit!  Indeed, BIRDIE was a catalyst for change.  It helped connect that idealistic girl of my past with this overly-busy wife, grandmother, and blogger...and in a very good way.

Closing show number "Put On A Happy Face" included the ENTIRE cast!

We all need to keep growing, learning, and connecting with other good people.

The entire town fainted as Conrad sang "Sincere".  The unconscious Mayor still grips the Key to the City of Sweetapple.  The key was to be given to Conrad.  Rosie Alvarez steps over the fainted citizens, takes the key from the Mayor's hand, and presents it to Conrad.

 I'd like to close with a bit of advice to everyone about community theater.  Get involved.  Be supportive.  Buy tickets and see shows.  Volunteer. Audition.  Help out backstage.  By making this special venue a part of your life, you enrich yourself and your community.  

NOTE:  Most photos shown are provided courtesy of Stacey Greenwalt King.

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