When rock star Conrad Birdie comes to town, he really shakes things up. And Westfield Summer Stage will bring his story to life in its rollicking production of the musical, "Bye Bye Birdie."
Performances are Thursday-Saturday, July 27, 28, 29, at 7:30 p.m., plus a 2 p.m. matinee on July 29. Purchase tickets at the box office or at www.westfieldtheatreboosters.com.
Westfield Summer Stage is a four-week, musical-theater workshop for middle- and high-school students. And Oakton High's Joe Machak, in the title role, is in his fifth year with the program.
His character's used to getting what he wants and has trouble adjusting to the small-town ways of Sweet Apple, Ohio. "He's stuck up and full of himself," said Machak. "And he's so far from my real personality that it's fun to branch out."
Machak said it's challenging singing while his hips are twitching and his body's swiveling, but he loves performing. His favorite song is "Honestly Sincere."
"I'm in a band of my own, but we haven't performed, yet, so it's fun to pretend," he said. "This is basically Elvis' life and America loves him. And the rock star goes down in the end, so it's fun to see him get what's coming to him."
Westfield grad Kevin Manship plays Birdie's songwriter, Albert, and senior Courtney Knickerbocker plays Albert's secretary and girlfriend, Rosie. "She's classy and sophisticated, but sassy," said Knickerbocker. "She wants to get married, but Albert's mother doesn't like her because she's Spanish."
She especially loves her costumes. "My dresses are cute, form-fitting and vintage, with beautiful patterns," she said. Knickerbocker said the show will appeal to all ages, with its Rosie/Albert romance, the rock star and the teen chaos and drama. Her favorite song is "Spanish Rose" because "I sing and dance and my costume's kind of risqué and scandalous."
Westfield's Sarah Cowdery portrays Kim McAfee, a Birdie fan club member randomly chosen to kiss Birdie on TV's "Ed Sullivan Show." "She's the All-American girl," said Cowdery. "She's smart and popular and thinks she's mature. But in reality, she's just 15.
"I like the show's ensemble [nature] — how the whole town's involved in this girl's life and in each other's lives," said Cowdery. "You can bounce relationships off each other, and it's also goofy and nonsensical."
Her favorite numbers feature the whole cast. "There's so much energy," she said. "It's great for a summer performance because it's the classic, teen-age musical and it's just fun."
Playing Harvey Johnson the nerd is Westfield junior Ben Reese. "He's not the coolest guy," he said. "During the song, 'Telephone Hour,' the music stops and you hear him trying to ask a girl out, and he's very awkward. He's friends with Hugo, who tolerates him. And he's got a big crush on Penelope Ann, Kim's best friend."
Reese enjoys having the freedom to add things defining his character. He said the audience will enjoy watching the show because it's so entertaining and "any song with Conrad in it will be really good."
Westfield's Daniel Calabrese portrays Kim's boyfriend, Hugo Peabody. "He's an all-American boy who plays tennis," said Calabrese. "He doesn't like to do anything mean, and he and Kim are a good match. It's really fun because I'm playing opposite Sarah Cowdery on stage, and she's such a good actress that we really bond. And my best friends in real life are also my best friends in the show."
He says the audience will particularly like "Telephone Hour" because "it's in the beginning and puts the audience in the mood for a nice, 1960s home show; everybody's happy."
Sophomore Claire Manship plays Ursula Merkle, Kim's best friend. "She's the over-enthusiastic president of Birdie's fan club," said Manship. "It's always fun to play crazy parts. I get to scream a lot." She said the show has something for everyone; her favorite song is "Rosie" because "it's a we're-getting-married song and I'm a hopeless romantic."
Langley's Haydn Haring plays Kim's mom Doris. "I'm the neurotic housewife," she said. "Cleaning is my obsession; I always have a feather duster in the pocket of my dress. And not only do I dust my house, I'm always dusting my husband, son and daughter. And when we're in public, I clean them off with a hankie." She loves the people she's working with, adding, "We have lots of tight-knit friendships."
Westfield senior Stephen Hatch plays Kim's dad Harry. "He's disgruntled and straight laced," said Hatch. "He doesn't like anything going on in the town and the fact that Conrad's there and Albert and Rosie come into his house. Conrad is for everything Harry is against — fun. He's essentially a good guy, but a very stern dad."
Because of that, said Hatch, he's fun to play. "He provides contrast to everything and has lots of funny lines. Nobody ever listens to him — which is probably why he's so upset." Hatch says there's lots of new talent in the show and "it's a real, breakthrough performance for Daniel and Sarah; I'm really happy for them. It's an all-around, good play with a good story, humor and music."
Westfield grad Katie Grimsland is stage manager. She helps with blocking, plus supervising the actors, and helped design the set. There's "Telephone Hour," showing the town's teens talking to each other on the phone, and the McAfee kitchen and living room.
"It's really complicated, but we can do it," said Grimsland. "We'll probably have a gazebo, too." She loves working with lots of people and seeing how the whole process unfolds. And, she said, "It's great to see how the actors grow and develop their characters."
Yvonne Henry choreographed some 10 songs, including five major production numbers. It took her three weeks, and now she's teaching the actors the movements, dance steps and staging.
It's challenging but, said Henry, "They're great kids and take directions well. They're having fun being silly teen-agers, but they're also very talented — the cream of the crop. They start as young actors in Summer Stage, act in high school and then come back here and help teach. So it's a whole, family, theater cycle."
"Summer Stage offers musical theater not just to the kids, but to the whole community," said co-director Zoe Dillard. She said it also helps middle-schoolers transition to high school and prepares all the actors for their next roles. It's also a family affair; Nancy Rolfe's making costumes, and her husband and Dillard's are working on sets.
"And Charlie Manship's musical direction is awesome," said Dillard. "We're fortunate to have such talented people helping; we have a lot of parent and teacher support."
Co-director Lori Knickerbocker said the kids love playing teen-agers in a rock-and-roll show, and some of the production numbers have all 60 actors on stage. Summer Stage attracts students from Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax counties and, said Knickerbocker, "More than half returned from last year, so we must be doing something right. They're working so hard on what's supposed to be their vacation, but they love it."
She said people will enjoy the show because it's family friendly, and Summer Stage adds to Westfield's reputation as a welcoming, community school. Said Knickerbocker: "We look at this as a gift to the community."