Jersey Community High School Theatre brings ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ to stage

For The Telegraph

JERSEYVILLE — Jersey Community High School Theatre take on the late 1950s’ musical “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Set in 1958, “Bye Bye Birdie” was inspired by the phenomenon of popular singer Elvis Presley and his draft notice into the army in 1957. Presley is embodied in the musical’s rock star character Conrad Birdie, whose name is a play on words in the name Conway Twitty, who was a real music performer, now best remembered as a country music star, but in the late ’50s, Twitty and Presley were rock ‘n’ roll rivals.

It took a bit for “Bye Bye Birdie’s” story — and title — to materialize. Producer Edward Padula had the idea for a musical titled “Let’s Go Steady,” which he saw as a “happy teenage musical with a difference,” according to online archives. Padula contracted with two writers, Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, who wrote seven songs for a libretto. Then Padula, Strouse and Adams sought Gower Champion as director/choreographer, who until that time hadn’t choreographed many musicals.

Champion didn’t like the musical’s story and the pair of writers were fired. Enter writer Michael Stewart, who was hired. Stewart wrote another early version of “Bye Bye Birdie,” he titled “Love and Kisses,” which focused on a couple thinking of divorce, but whose children persuade them to stay together.

According to archives, Champion didn’t like this version, either. Stewart returned to the drawing board, along with a reinstated Adams, who together came up with another idea and renamed the story “Bye Bye Birdie.” The musical follows an up-and-coming rock ‘n’ roll singer, Conrad Birdie, who goes off to the army, which leaves a lasting effect on a group of small-town Ohio teenagers.

This final re-write was inspired by a real newspaper article of the day, about Presley going off to war in Germany for 18 months in 1958. When this occurred, teenagers and young women cried in public about the real rock ‘n’ roll idol’s U.S. departure.

The original 1960–1961 Broadway production of “Bye Bye Birdie” won a Tony, spawned a London production and several major revivals, a sequel, a 1963 film, and a 1995 television production. The musical also became a popular choice for high school and college productions.

Tickets cost $10 per person to JCHS Theatre’s spring musical “Bye Bye Birdie,” by Stewart, Strouse and Adams. Curtain time is 7 p.m., Thursday, March 19, through Saturday, March 21, and 2 p.m., Sunday, March 22. Doors open one-half hour before each performance.

Brett Beauchamp is director; Margaret Bea, music direction; Martha Harpstrite, costumer/production designer; Erin Bittles, pit orchestra conductor; Jaelyn Hawkins, choreographer; Ben Gracey, technical director; and, Lu Anne Taul, accompanist. This year’s seniors are Abby Balz, William Beauchamp, Brett Bryden, James Hartman, Kirsten Hetzel, Larissa Loges, Elizabeth Meyer, Grant Morgan, Lillie Purcell, Victoria Richardson and Grant Smith.

More Information

If you go:

What: "Bye Bye Birdie," by Michael Stewart, Charles Strouse, and Lee Adams, presented by Jersey Community High School Theatre

When: 7 p.m., Thursday, March 19-Saturday, March 21; 2 p.m., Sunday, March 22. Doors open one-half hour before each performance.

Where: Jersey Community High School auditorium, Jerseyville

Info: For more information call the JCHS Office at 618-498-5521 and ask for Katie.

For more information call the JCHS Office at 618-498-5521 and ask for Katie.