by James Garcia Jr.
This spring, Kingsburg High School will be doing a production of the classic musical Bye Bye Birdie. The stage musical is a satire on American society set in the late 1950s and inspired by the Army draft notice given famously to Elvis Presley in 1957. In the production, the character of “Conrad Birdie” is a play on words with the name of Conway Twitty. Twitty may be best remembered as a country music artist, but back then he was one of Presley’s rivals.
The original Broadway cast included some of the most famous entertainers of the day: Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera and Paul Lynde. The Columbia Pictures film version came out in 1963 and is credited as making Ann-Margret a superstar. The film also starred Van Dyke and Lynde (reprising their Broadway roles) as well as Maureen Stapleton and Janet Leigh.
In the story, songwriter and agent, Albert Peterson, finds himself out of a star as Birdie prepares for life in the Army. Peterson’s sweetheart, Rosie Alvarez, comes up with a last gasp publicity stunt. In it, Birdie is to record a new Peterson song, entitled “One Last Kiss”, premiere it on the Ed Sullivan Show and give one lucky girl a real last kiss before he departs for the military.
The show is being directed by Laura Vallenari, herself a veteran of numerous KHS productions. “I chose the play because I really enjoyed the story line. Richard Mynderup (Director of Kingsburg High School Choirs) and I knew we wanted to do a musical and I loved the comedy of this show,” said Vallenari. “We have a really fun cast. (We have) quite a few seasoned seniors who get along well and have great chemistry together, plus some very talented younger actors who are ready to carry on the KHS theater tradition next year.”
“In this show, I’ll be playing the one and only Conrad Birdie,” said veteran Jacob Pasalakis, one of those seasoned seniors. “He’s a man that will be going off to the Army soon, and his last hopes of getting any ‘chicks’ are relying on his manager, Albert Peterson.”
My son, Riley Garcia, another veteran of the local stage, having been a cast member of Little Women, Guys and Dolls and The Wizard of Oz, will play the role of Birdie’s Manager, Albert Peterson. “I’m excited for this show. It is very funny and references a lot of things in the pop culture of that era,” said Garcia. “Playing Albert has been fun because of his bad attempts at being helpful to others, and because he’s very witty.”
In the role of Peterson’s secretary and long-suffering girlfriend, Rosie, is sophomore, Abigail Burger. “Rosie is a very sarcastic person,” said Burger. “She gets to the point, but also has her funny/quirky moments.” Burger is a newcomer to the KHS Little Theater stage. “I transferred here from Hallmark Charter in Sanger at the beginning of the year, so this is my first play with Kingsburg High. When I auditioned, I expected to be in the chorus, so I was very shocked when I found out I got a main part. It’s been great working with these people, everyone at KHS is so talented and I’m glad I will be there for the next two years!”
“(I love) the Broadway style of singing,” continued Burger. “I love any type of Broadway musical, and when I hear a song I just have to sing it. I’ve been a fan of Bye Bye Birdie for quite some time now and knowing most of the music was a plus!”
In the musical, Kim MacAfee is chosen to receive that last kiss from Birdie. Alisa Nelson plays Mrs. MacAfee, the girl’s mother. “I’m excited for the show because it’s very different from the other shows that KHS has put on in the last few years,” said Nelson. “It is very loose, and has a fun and light feel to it.”
With this being my son’s last show for KHS, I wondered how the rest of the senior class felt about this being their farewell performance. “As a senior, I’m proud to have been part of such a great department in our school,” said Pasalakis. “I will miss the excitement that comes before and after a performance,” said Nelson. “Being in theater has been a great experience, full of great memories and friends.”
With all of the plays and musicals that Vallenari has directed, she has never once appeared on her own stage. This show will offer a rare treat as she steps before the lights for the very first time, in honor of her departing senior class. “I am so proud of all of my kids, but especially my seniors,” said Vallenari “They have been with me through a lot of shows and have grown so much over the years! When Richard and I first decided to do this show, a group of our seniors got together to watch the film. They called me to tell me that I just had to play Mae Peterson, the annoying, slightly psychotic, and overbearing mother. After a month of non-stop pestering, they finally got me. ‘But it’s our senior year and it would mean so much to us,’ they said. And so I find myself acting on stage for the very first time in my entire life, and I am scared out of my wits.”
“I love getting to perform on stage because no matter what, it’s all about the audience,” said Pasalakis. “By doing these shows, we drive to entertain and feed off the audience’s reaction. It’s an amazing feeling to get to perform and I’ll truly miss it next year.”
The show will run from April 17 through April 21 at the Kingsburg High School Little Theater. The show times will be 7 p.m. every night with the doors opening 30 minutes before. There will be two shows on the 21st, with a matinee show beginning at 1:30 pm.
The tickets are $5 dollars for students and seniors and $ 8 dollars for adults. Call (559) 897-5156 for information or group discounts.