| Apr 26, 2007

Feature Article - April 26, 2007

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Feature Article - April 26, 2007

Bye-Bye Birdie at Sydenham HighSchool

by Jeff Green

The Sydenham High School Arts Department presented a winsome production of Bye Bye Birdie last weekend.

Bye Bye Birdie was written, and is set, in 1960, the pre-Beatles era when Elvis was king. Konrad Birdie (Ben Aarsen) is the fictional rock ’n roll star of the title, and his being drafted into the army is the impetus for the action of the play.

Although Birdie is the object of adulation for most of the characters, the play is really about a kind of love triangle between Birdie’s manager Albert Peterson (Josh Campsall), his long-suffering secretary Rose Alvarez (Emily Bashall) and his smothering mother Mrs. Peterson (Maureen McLaren).

When Albert and Rose decide to send Birdie to Sweet Apple, Ohio on a publicity stunt to bestow a kiss on one lucky girl, it sends the whole town into a tizzy.

The strength of the SHS production of Bye Bye Birdie lay in the exuberant way the performers played with what is, admittedly, a bit of a thin plotline.


Through a well designed set, extremely quick set changes, and bright costumes featuring more poodle skirts than you can shake a stick at, the performers managed to play with the material just enough for the audience to be aware that this is really a play from a bygone innocent era, without the whole production descending into a farce.

Many of the characters were aided by wireless headset microphones, which took a minute to get used but enabled the singers to concentrate on their pitch without worrying so much about volume. Since the production was backed up by a full 18-piece orchestra, and the SHS cafeteria does not have the greatest acoustics in the world, the headsets served the production well.

Emily Bashall as Rose Alvarez did a great job both singing and acting throughout the play, and Josh Campsall was particularly good at portraying music manager Albert Peterson’s insincerity and his desperate desire to please the two women in his life, all the while making him a likeable character.

As the self-described long-suffering mother, Maureen McLaren as Mrs. Peterson had some of the best lines of the play, and she played it for all it was worth, whining her way through the production.

Ben Aarsen played Birdie as a cross between Elvis and Justin Timberlake, knowing exactly how to move while talking and crooning his way through the play. It couldn’t have been hard to cast him for the role.

Kristen Pye had a difficult role to play as Kim McAfee, a 15-year-old trying to negotiate the transition into adulthood just as she is chosen to be the girl that will receive Birdie’s one last kiss before he joins the army. She did a good job singing, and portraying both Kim McAfee’s vulnerability and the dismissiveness she reserves for her parents.

Matt Allen as Mr. MacAfee and Amy Mansall as Mrs. MacAfee played the 50s sitcom-style parents with wit, and Megan Tidman as Kim’s younger sister Myrtle did a fine job standing up to her father as he unleashed his frustration towards Kim upon her.

(One minor note about the script at this point. Although the dated nature of the script is well understood when seeing a play like Bye Bye Birdie, the offhanded cruelty that Mr. McAfee expresses towards Myrtle, which was no doubt intended as innocent humour by the playwright, comes off as a sour note as compared to the rest of the play, which maintains a feeling of innocent fun in spite of all the stereotypes the characters embody)

Josh Freeman was excellent as Kim’s hapless boyfriend Hugo, and Tamara Jellema should be mentioned for her completely convincing rendition of a small-town teenage girl infatuated with a pop star. She was well supported by the other members of the fan club and the chorus dancers and singers.

In a production like Bye Bye Birdie, with 32 performers going on and off the stage, dozens of set changes, numerous songs, and a large orchestra, there was a lot of backstage work involved in making sure the play ran seamlessly.

Artistic Director Daniel Raponi, musical director Michael Verner, stage manager Vanessa Pignataro, and vocal Coach Kristin Stevens all deserve recognition for their efforts in creating such an enjoyable production at Sydenham High School.

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