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Big production of 'Bye Bye Birdie' comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall

CLEARWATER

At Ruth Eckerd Hall, there's a whole lotta shakin' and screamin' and faintin' going on.

That's because the sexy, hip-swiveling Conrad Birdie is back to give One Last Kiss in the City Players rendition of Bye Bye Birdie, a Tony Award-winning musical that debuted on Broadway in 1960.

The community theater production with a cast of 62 and live orchestra of 13 runs tonight, Saturday night and Sunday with a matinee.

The rock 'n' roll musical is a nostalgic nod to "going steady," ponytails, poodle skirts and teens chatting in telephone booths — with corded phones no less.

At $26 a seat, it's a bargain and a great escape, said the show's director, Joy Roche, Clearwater High's drama teacher for 21 years.

"This is a Broadway-quality show, and audience members will not be disappointed," she said.

The cast includes two high school drama teachers — Gerald Durst from Dunedin High and Karl Meinecke from Pinellas Park High — as well as an array of top talent from local schools and colleges.

Choreographer Patricia McNally, owner of Patricia Ann Dance Studios in Dunedin, brings her Broadway background to the table as well.

"We are extremely lucky to have some very gifted kids and adults," Roche said.

Durst, 27, plays the lead role of Albert Peterson, a talent agent whose superstar, Conrad Birdie, has been drafted into the Army. The plot unfolds as he and his secretary, Rose Alvarez, come up with a publicity stunt to have Birdie dole out "one last kiss" to a lucky girl on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Durst said he hadn't performed in a musical for nine years and wanted to "reconnect with the performers."

He likes community theater's intergenerational appeal, when 80-year-olds can actually be cast as 80-year-olds.

"Normally I may have to cast the part with a 14-year-old," Durst said.

Tony Pagano, 75, of Hudson is an optician and one of the older members of the cast who was bitten by the acting bug late in life.

"It's my first appearance in musical theater," he said, though he has performed on stage many times singing barbershop harmony.

On the other end of the age spectrum is Jack Dunham, 11, of St. Petersburg as Randolph MacAfee. His "big sister" Kim wins the kiss from Birdie.

"It's a lot of fun to be around people of all ages," Jack said.

And, he added, a pleasant change from the childhood idolatry of computers, video games and text messages.

"You can't call a computer your friend, but you can play with and talk with and joke with plenty of people around here," he said.

Alexa Bouchard, 18, of Dunedin plays secretary Rose Alvarez. She said her lead role is her farewell before she heads off to Oklahoma City University to be part of its musical theater program.

"I've grown up at Ruth Eckerd Hall, taking classes here since the fifth grade," she said. "This is my last hurrah."

The cast also includes Dennis Reid and his 12-year-old son, Brandon. Reid, 40, is a pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Clearwater, where the cast has been rehearsing.

Being in community theater gives him and his son a special way to connect, but also, "the cast becomes your second family as you come together to create magical moments for the audience."

Sign language interpreters Carol Downing and Harriett Clark will be on the sidelines signing during every show; 20 free tickets will be given to deaf audience members for the Saturday night performance.

City Players president Patrice Pucci urged everyone to come out and show their support for the arts.

"We used to rely on grants to see us through, but those are becoming few and far between so we are increasingly relying on donations and citizen support," she said.

Chad Mueller, 19, of Clearwater plays Conrad Birdie, whose character was inspired by Elvis Presley.

Dressed in Army fatigues trimmed in gold sequins, the 2009 graduate of Clearwater High School said he watched YouTube videos of Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show to capture all the right moves.

"He turned his knee inward, rounded his shoulders, relaxed his arms and curled his lip," he said, giving a little demonstration.

Mueller said the best part of being in the musical was making all the girls swoon.

"It's a real boost to the ego, but when you walk out the back door, it's like, 'Darn. If only it was that easy,' " he said.

Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at treeves@tampabay.rr.com

If you go

What: Bye Bye Birdie, a musical production by City Players

When: Today and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.

Where: Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater

Tickets: $23 in advance; $26 at the door. Special student rates of $10 available 30 minutes before the show with ID

For information: Call the Ruth Eckerd Hall ticket office at (727) 791-7400 for the box office or visit rutheckerdhall.com.

Big production of 'Bye Bye Birdie' comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall 07/22/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 22, 2010 3:42pm]
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