If you go…
When: Aug. 3–18 at 8 p.m.
Where: SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre
For its final show of the outdoor season, the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre is stepping back into a time of innocence to help you “put on a happy face” with the musical “Bye Bye Birdie.”
When Conrad Birdie, a popular singer, is drafted into the U.S. Army, his team creates one last publicity stunt for the teen heartthrob to travel to a small Midwest town, sing a song and bestow one last kiss on a lucky girl. As the town prepares for his arrival, the residents slip into silly mayhem.
“They bring in this Elvis Presley character from the Big Apple to Sweet Apple, Ohio and he turns the town on its ear,” says Kathryn Laycock Little, co-director of the show.
Little calls “Bye Bye Birdie” a “feel-good, silly” musical that makes people stop and wonder, “What were we thinking in the ’50s?”
“One of its charms is it’s so innocent and fun and naive,” Little said. “It just takes you back to a less sophisticated time when people were just being people and they were just having fun.”
And teaching her cast — which she says comes close to the appropriate age for their characters — has required defining some things that was basic knowledge 60 years ago. Little and her husband/co-director Howard had to explain what “getting pinned” meant and what the “Ed Sullivan Show” was.
“They didn’t know anything about Ed Sullivan at all,” Little said. “That was an ancient time period to them.”
Then there is the chasm caused by technology advancements. Many members of the age-appropriate cast didn’t even know what a rotary telephone was.
“These kids have never known anything but a cell phone,” Little said.
So part of the direction required of the directors, who are in their 60s themselves, was teaching the process it takes to make a call on a rotary phone.
Despite not being born in the ’50s, Little praises her cast. “We’ve just got some really smart actors who get the characters.”
The leads in the show include Ian Webb as Birdie, Rebecca Boberg as Kim McAfree, Jack Brannelly as Hugo, T’naiha Ellis as Rosie, and Ben Denton as Albert.
Learning the terms was one step in bringing “Bye Bye Birdie” to the SCERA’s stage, as was creating a set representing life half a century ago. And while the energy of the musical is timeless, the props are not. Prop Designer Christy Norton had to find 17 sets of curtains and other vintage pieces for the stage, including a 1950s radio.
“Most vintage furniture is pretty fragile. Many of the pieces that we are using are authentic from that period,” Norton said. “It is pretty fragile, so they have to take it off the set and cover it so it doesn’t get rained on.”
Faced with the challenge of collecting 30 rotary phones for the famous “The Telephone Hour” number, Norton began scouring eBay and KSL classifieds.
“One of the challenges of creating a time period is finding props that are durable enough for an outdoor venue and to make it through almost 20 performances and still be time period appropriate,” Norton said.
Part of finding props and creating sets for the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre is needing to create larger-than-life items so that people sitting at the top of the hill can notice the details. And some of those items are little not-so-hidden treasures on set.
“We like to put personal elements into our shows, like the posters on Kim’s wall of Conrad Birdie is the actual actor,” Norton said. “In the photo shoot, we take pictures and alter them to the right time period.”
“Bye Bye Birdie” opens on Friday, Aug. 10, and runs through Aug. 18 on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre in Orem, Utah. The show begins at 8 p.m. each night. Tickets cost $10–$14 for children and $12–$16 for adults.
“My hope is they just go away smiling and having had a really sweet fun, laugh a lot, feel good, entertaining evening,” Little said.
Learn more about the musical at scera.org.