The board of Ovation! Performing Arts Northwest chose a classic with which to make a fresh start.
The company’s imminent production of “Bye Bye Birdie” is the first full show (following last December’s Andrew Lloyd Webber medley “Masquerade”) since the retirement of co-founder, longtime director and all-around top dog Ron Milton. His wife, regular company player, fellow co-founder and honorary board member, Marijane Milton will remain more involved in an advisory capacity, but the new era of Ovation! is primarily in the hands — and feet and minds and voices — of a new crop of creatives now.
The changing times, both internally at Ovation! and in the culture at large, made “Birdie” the perfect choice, according to the crew.
“It resonates, especially nowadays with all of the conflict in politics and with race and color,” said Giselle Vincent, Ovation! Vice President, who plays the lead of Rose. “This really strikes a chord in our community.”
“Bye Bye Birdie” famously spoofs the pandemonium that ensued when Elvis Presley was drafted, though the Elvis-type character, Conrad Birdie (played by Ross Eide in the Ovation! production) is actually not center stage.
The story primarily follows Rose “Rosie” Alvarez, who has suffered through many years of romantic limbo with her boss, New York–based songwriter Albert Peterson (Daniel Opalski), whose biggest client is the newly-drafted Birdie, despite being looked down on by his overbearing mother and with no real commitment from him.
She brings her personal problems to the rural Ohio town of Sweet Apple, where she and Peterson have escorted Birdie as part of a PR stunt: to have him sing “One Last Kiss” (a song she demands Albert write) and give one lucky girl, chosen randomly from his fan club, a real “last kiss” on “The Ed Sullivan Show” before going into the Army.
“This is really just like a hysterical overblown version of what happened when Elvis was drafted,” said Ovation! board member, the show’s costume designer and longtime regular company player Myriah Riedel.
“There’s also a lot of social commentary in this about what is real to what is the facade on everything. Conrad is a facade. Everyone has an image of what they think he is, but he is not anything like that. And so everyone in the show has moments of that too, where they’re like, ‘No, I’m this person … But I’m actually this person.’ And it’s like breaking down those walls that they’ve set up for themselves.”
The show is choreographed by Philippa Myler, in her second Ovation! production, and directed by Scott Breitbarth.
Additionally, the show will be staged in a novel venue: Bainbridge Performing Arts.
Performances are Friday, Jan. 3 through Sunday, Jan. 12 (plus a pay-what-you-can preview at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 2). First-weekend performances are Jan. 3 to Jan. 5, with shows Friday at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
Second-weekend performances are Jan. 9 to Jan. 12, with shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., an early matinee on Saturday at 2 p.m., and the closing matinee on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
Tickets, $24 for adults, $22 for seniors, $19 for students, youth, military, and teachers, may be purchased online at www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org, by phone at 206-842-8569 or in person at BPA (200 Madison Ave. North).
BPA box office hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and one hour prior to each performance.
Visit www.ovation mtb.com to learn more and purchase.
Vincent credits the show’s consistent popularity with two distinct factors.
“Catchy tunes, and all of it is relatable on so many different levels,” she said. “You have the teen drama where they’re in love with an icon, and then we have parents who are fed up with their teens, and then you have an interracial relationship and a mom who doesn’t like [Rose]. There are so many different backgrounds that it can appeal to many different people.”
First-time Ovation! player Lucas Beringer, who plays local teen Fred, agreed.
“I think it’s so popular because it has a really good story, I really love the story and it has a lot of aspects to it and you can relate with almost any character,” he said.
For him, one of the company’s newest members, the turnover in leadership wasn’t a factor — just the usual jitters.
“I think at the beginning I didn’t know what to do,” Beringer said. “It’s my first show; I was confused. I’ve never been at Ovation!, but I think Scott really pulled it together. I couldn’t picture it in my head before and now I can see it, it’s clear as day.”
The director, who is almost simultaneously helming this year’s Bainbridge Ballet production of “The Nutcracker,” said he intends to bring some of the tech-based effects at work in that show to “Bye Bye Birdie” as well so as to truly maximize the larger-than-usual space available to them on the BPA stage.
“I just want to have as much fun and bring as much to the table as possible,” Breitbarth said. “It really is a show about what does it mean to live the American dream? Is it to be successful? Is it to find your own happiness?”
It’s a question the new leadership of Ovation! are asking themselves, too.
“We don’t want to let [the Miltons] down,” Vincent said. “They’ve held such a high standard with all of their musicals.
“The founding principles of it being a teaching company are still there, and I love that,” she added. “This is a huge teen cast. There are about 35 cast members and the majority of that is teens.
“From what we’ve seen already, it’s going to be amazing. I can’t wait to see the whole thing.”