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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Students performing in ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ at Civic

6/5/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Pam Lifke

Shown is the cast of Akron’s third All-City Musical “Bye Bye Birdie,” which will be performed June 14-15 at the Akron Civic Theatre.
Photo: Dale Dong
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Akron’s third All-City Musical will take flight June 14-15 at the Akron Civic Theatre when students from nearly 20 high schools — and a couple of younger actors — present “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Director Mark Zimmerman, who is also theater director for the Akron School for the Arts at Firestone High School, said he is excited about this year’s production, which has a cast of nearly 60 students.

“The musicality [is] off the charts,” he said. “The quality of singing we’re getting from these students is very high.”

Zimmerman also had high praise for choreographer Marissa Montigney.

“Her choreography is brilliant,” he said.

The show’s orchestra also is largely students, Zimmerman said.

“Most people think of [“Bye Bye Birdie”] as rock and roll, but it’s really a traditional show and the score is lovely,” said Zimmerman, adding the show requires a wide range of instrumentation and this will be the biggest pit orchestra yet for an All-City Musical.

With this year’s choice, Akron Civic Theatre Executive Director Howard Parr said three very different shows have been produced, with “Hairspray” in 2012 and “Ragtime” in 2013.

“We’re testing the waters to see what kind of show plays best,” Parr said.

As producer, the Civic is responsible for the cost of the production, including obtaining rights to material and promotion, Parr said. “We take the risk,” he said.

“Bye-Bye Birdie” is a $50,000 production and ticket sales are expected to generate $25,000 to $30,000, Parr said. Sponsorships make up the difference, as they do with most community shows staged at the Civic, he added. Profit, however, is not why the Civic produces shows like the All-City Musical.

“It’s totally within our mission. That’s why we’re here,” Parr said.

Parr said giving students on stage and in the pit an opportunity to work with theater professionals is a reward in itself and he is thankful the Civic can offer that opportunity.

Zimmerman said he saw more students audition this year even though many school districts were on spring break and several former participants were out of town when auditions were conducted.

“I think we’re seeing kids from a wider area,” said Zimmerman, as well as a really interesting mix of auditioning students, he added. “I’m seeing really talented students who are looking for an additional opportunity to have a positive musical theater experience.”

Part of the All-City Musical’s mission is to provide opportunity to students whose schools don’t produce a musical, Zimmerman said. The production also is committed to racial and economic diversity, Zimmerman said.

“With the classic shows, you can cast color blind,” he added.

Zimmerman said he has seen “Bye Bye Birdie” a number of times, but never has worked on it.

“It’s been a real learning experience for me to pull the show apart and see how it works,” he said.

He said he has come to appreciate the humor in the show.

“The students are the ones who helped me see the humor in it … the kids just really get this humor,” he said.

“Bye Bye Birdie” is the story of Conrad Birdie (Brandon Henderson, Akron School for the Arts (ASA)/Firestone), a pop idol drafted by the U.S. Army. Birdie’s manager, Albert Peterson (Brandon Kline, ASA/Firestone) and Peterson’s girlfriend Rosie Alverez (Hallie Heffernan, Copley High School) cook up a publicity stunt to make sure Birdie isn’t forgotten while he serves his country. They send Birdie to Sweet Apple, Ohio, to plant a televised good-bye kiss on lucky fan Kim Macafee (Michaella Waickman, ASA/Firestone). Kim’s boyfriend, Hugo Peabody (Austin Griffith, Archbishop Hoban High School), is not a fan and Sweet Apple is in chaos.

Notable songs from the production include “Put on a Happy Face,” “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” and “What Did I Ever See in Him.”

The cast also includes students from Akron Early College, Ellet, Kenmore, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Norton, Revere, Stow, Wadsworth and Woodridge high schools, as well as Our Lady of the Elms, St. Vincent-St. Mary and Walsh Jesuit high schools. Since musical productions are always short on men, students from Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts and King Elementary School also won parts, Zimmerman said.

Presenting sponsor for this year’s performance is the Akron Civic Theatre Women’s Guild with support from PNC, Samuel Reese Willis Foundation, Friends of the Akron School for the Arts, Maynard Family Foundation, Lyle M. Buckingham Endowment Fund and ECP Humanities Fund. Additional funding is provided by the Ohio Arts Council, Akron Community Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the GAR Foundation and the Margaret Clarke Morgan Foundation, according to Akron Civic officials.

“Bye Bye Birdie” performances will take place June 14 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. and June 15 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $10, $20 and $25 and are available by calling the Akron Civic Theatre at 330-253-2488, at the Akron Civic Box office at 182 S. Main St. or online at www.ticketmaster.com.

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