On a rainy Friday afternoon, following a long week of after-school practices, the cast of Sonoma Valley High School’s “Bye Bye Birdie” has been given the day off from further rehearsal. But instead of going home, several of them have gathered in the still-damp courtyard of Peet’s Coffee, taking advantage of a short window of sunlight to enjoy each other’s company, sans the singing and dancing they’ll finally be showing off beginning this weekend.
Out of a cast of 35, about a dozen students are present, huddled around a table, warm drinks in hand, back-packs in their laps to keep them off the wet concrete floor.
“When we’re all together somewhere,” says Lauren Smith, who plays the parts of teenager Nancy and Mama Mae Peterson, “we more-or-less take over the place.”
“We’re kind of a mob, but we’re a happy mob,” agrees Earnest Moore, who doubles in the show as 10-year-old Randolph McAfee and teenager Carl.
A happy mob.
Sounds appropriate for a show about what happens when the teenagers of Sweet Apple, Ohio descend into hysteria after a local girl, 14-year-old Kim MacAfee, is randomly chosen to be publicly kissed by a famous rock-and-roller, Conrad Birdie (Noah Bartolome), on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
In the Tony-winning 1960 show by Michael Stewart, Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, the self-obsessed Birdie has been drafted into the Army. The planned “goodbye kiss” is part of a publicity stunt dreamed up by the singer’s manager, Albert (Cian Martin, alternating with Dominic Bongiavanni) and his secretary Rosie (played alternately by Hannah Sendaydiego and Hannah Ford Monroe).
In the show, all does not run smoothly when Birdie finally arrives, complicated by the fact that Kim’s boyfriend Hugo (Max Houghton and Nick Atwood) is jealous of the visiting rock star, and by the fact that every time Birdie sings, the teenage girls all faint.
According to the group gathered here today, the fainting scenes are hysterical.
Along with the aforementioned Smith, Monroe, and Moore, the Peet’s group consists of Nick Atwood (playing Hugo), Jackson Zyskowski (Harvey Johnson and Randolph), Claire McNairy (Alice and ensemble), Annie Robichaud (Nancy and Mrs. Peterson), and Ivy McNeil Blackwood, who, when asked to name her part in the play, replies with a smile, “My official script name is Sad Girl.”
Asked if any of them has ever seen the stage version of “Bye Bye Birdie” before being cast in it, the majority of the students here say no – with one exception.
“I actually did the musical at Presentation [School],” says Atwood. “I played Ed Sullivan, funny enough.”
“He’s really good at doing Ed Sullivan,” says McNary. “Do a little bit, Nick!”
“OK,” Atwood says, adopting a somewhat Sullivan-ish posture. “’As you know,’” he begins, “’in just 14 hours, one of show business’s brightest stars is going off to play a very special engagement with the U.S. Army!’”
His performance is met with applause and cheers.
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