With Bye Bye Birdie, Eight O'Clock Theatre is going back to a time when teenybopper girls wore high ponytails and guys imitated the ultra-cool rock 'n' rollers they saw on the Ed Sullivan Show.
The production, which runs Friday through March 20, transforms the Largo Cultural Center into a yesteryear far, far away. A time when hip-swiveling heartthrob Conrad Birdie made his young fans swoon. When he pays a visit to Sweet Apple, Ohio, to honor one lucky little lady with a last kiss before he joins the U.S. Army, it's a music promoter's dream come true.
Although the story line is based on a big farewell to the Elvis-inspired Conrad Birdie, the Eight O'Clock Theatre production serves as a welcome back party of sorts. Jason Tucker, a 1991 graduate of Keswick Christian School who now operates a music production company in Los Angeles, has returned to serve as director.
"There's definitely an excitement with this production,'' said Betsy Byrd, Eight O'Clock's business manager. "I think some of it has to do with how it includes a young cast, but there's also Jason, who brings an incredible energy.''
In 2003, Tucker had his directorial debut with the Largo-based theater troupe for Footloose. He went on to direct other Eight O'Clock shows, including the Fantasticks, Urinetown, Into the Woods, My Favorite Year and Beauty and the Beast.
"This particular theater has been very, very good to me. It allowed me to learn my craft,'' said Tucker, 37. "And physically, (Eight O'Clock) is the only community theater in the area with full rigging on stage, which gives you an opportunity to make things look like a Broadway tour.''
Bye Bye Birdie debuted on Broadway in 1960 with Dick Van Dyke as Albert Peterson and Chita Rivera playing Rosie Alvarez. This show's cast includes Omar Montes as Albert, Nicole Zecchini as Rosie, Trey Ryan as Conrad, Rand Smith as Harry MacAfee, Kate Gaudet as Doris MacAfee and Julia Namm as teenager Kim MacAfee.
Like Tucker, Namm also came of age with Eight O'Clock Theatre. Her first role was Brigitta in the Sound of Music during the 2003 season. Namm considers Tucker a mentor.
"It was under Jason's direction that I first realized how much I loved performing,'' said the 18-year-old. "Jason was directing Urinetown, and I remember to this day a moment when he was working with us onstage, and I realized how happy I was and how I felt like the stage is where I belong.''
As soon as Bye Bye Birdie wraps up, Namm, who will study theater at Northwestern University in the fall, will take on the role as Sandy in the East Lake High production of Grease, which will run April 28, 29 and 30.
Although her last semester of high school is filled up with studying, preparing for the April musical and late-night rehearsals for Bye Bye Birdie, Namm is thrilled to be involved with one last Eight O'Clock show before leaving for college.
"Shakespeare is theater at its finest, but Bye Bye Birdie is theater at its funnest,'' she said.
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.