Joey Quaile is dancing on the floor below the high school auditorium stage. His back is turned to the stage as he breaks out some truly retro moves, reminiscent of a time centered around poodle skirts and sock hops. In any other setting Quaile may look a little daft, but with roughly 30 students on stage behind him—following his every move—it’s is just another Wednesday rehearsal night for this choreographer.
“He always likes to do a variety of dances in each show,” says assistant director Allison Sheppard of Quaile.
Heading into their final week of rehearsals, cast members of the West Deptford High School spring musical Bye Bye Birdie are hard at work. Coming off the production centering around British aristocracy last year, this year it’s all about 1950s American pop culture.
“It’s the fun and the nostalgia that draws people to it,” says Sheppard.
Director William Yerkes adds that a musical such as this, has a little bit of something for everyone. With the musical set in 1958, older adults enjoy the nostalgia of the production, while younger adults can relate to the generational gap between the teens and the parents in the musical.
Of course, teens can also relate to any one of the musical’s starstruck and starry-eyed youngsters, aching to get close to heartthrob Conrad Birdie—a character inspired by none other than rock 'n' roll icon Elvis Presley.
Inciting that kind of fan-crazed obsession in the cast meant bridging a large generational gap for the directors. Yerkes and Sheppard say they often found themselves comparing Birdie to Justin Bieber and Harry Styles from the band One Direction in order to help the cast grasp the magnitude of Birdie’s heartthrob status.
Sheppard also says that many aspects of 1950s ideology had to be addressed—seeming so foreign in modern America—such as concepts like going steady and pinning.
“Kim is innocent, but innocence in the 1950s is different from innocence today,” says Sheppard referring to one of the musical's main characters.
Playing one of the predominate couples in Bye Bye Birdie, Megan Monaghan and Chris Barron found their own challenges.
As Albert Peterson, Barron plays a character pulled in two very different directions—one way by his mother and another by his love interest, Rose “Rosie” Alvarez.
“You're playing someone completely different from your own personality, so you have to deal with that,” says Monaghan.
Playing the part of Alvarez, Monaghan transforms into a very sassy woman of Spanish descent who finds herself constantly at odds with Peterson’s mother.
Studying French in school, Monaghan says trying to pull off a Spanish accent for some parts was a bit tricky, but still very fun. In her first major role since she began her musical career as a freshman, Monaghan says playing the role of Alvarez has already brought plenty of laughs with humorous numbers such as “Shriner’s Ballet” and “Spanish Rose.”
For Barron, the sole tap dance number “Put on a Happy Face” is by far his favorite as he quells the woes of some of Birdie’s lovestruck fans. Pulling from his own experiences, he says the key to playing Peterson was thinking about the anxieties and frustrations that come along with trying to please everyone at once.
A three year musical veteran himself, Barron previously played Enjolras in the high school’s production of Les Misérables two years ago.
Bye Bye Birdie opens Friday, March 15 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium, followed by two additional performances on Saturday, March 16 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 17 at 2 p.m. Tickets can still be purchased in advance for $10 per person, and will also be available for $15 per person at the door. Tickets at the door are $10 for any students with a school ID.
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