Little Details (4/29/10)

The show goes on

April 29, 2010

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

The curtain rises again as Williston Central School’s Drama Club presents the musical comedy “Bye Bye Birdie” May 8 and May 9. Backpacks, sports equipment and musical instruments — trappings of middle school life — lie in heaps on the auditorium floor as students arrive for rehearsal. They are quickly transported to 1958 and the mythical town of Sweet Apple.

The energy and enthusiasm of 64 actors plus crew is nothing short of exuberant. As opening night approaches, lighting and sound systems are fine tuned as final touches are placed on scenery and costumes. These kids want to perform. Each has a role to play, which, when combined with others, creates a spectacle on stage.

“Bye Bye Birdie” embraces a familiar theme. A heartthrob rock singer, trailed by a bevy of joyously unrestrained teenyboppers, is drafted. Conrad Birdie’s PR-sensitive manager suggests one last hurrah — a major publicity stunt — before his locks are shorn and his pleasing physique is squeezed into a stifling, brass-buttoned uniform.

Elvis Presley, due to begin filming “King Creole,” was abruptly drafted into the Army in 1957. Angry fans protested, writing letters to the Memphis Draft Board and even President Dwight Eisenhower. Instead of derailing the King of Rock and Roll’s career, a well-crafted public relations campaign actually boosted his popularity. Carefully timed record releases and publicity photos of the music icon in uniform broadened his appeal while he served on a tank battalion in West Germany.

Andrea Cronan, making her directorial debut at Williston Central School, brings a wealth of experience to “Bye Bye Birdie.” She deftly juggles multiple roles. By day, Cronan is the marketing manager at Williston-based DEW Construction. She credits owner Don Wells with affording her the flexibility to take on this gig. Flex-time during play production means she’s in her office from 6:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. before heading to school to direct from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Call it a labor of love.

“I’ve been involved in theater since third grade,” Cronan says.

She’s acted, worked on crew and later became involved in student-directed plays while a student at Lyndon State College. Community theater shows include cast, crew and directorial gigs with Lyric Theatre and Stowe Theatre Guild. Cronan’s dossier reads like a libretto anthology with “Music Man,” “Oklahoma,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Secret Garden” among her credits.

Cronan cites people like Patrick Clow, Johanna Boyce-Munson and Williston’s beloved Al Myers among her mentors. Theater is a craft. It’s not something learned from a book. Dedicated thespians must hone their skills, studying from those more masterful, like an apprentice in a carpenter’s shop.

Cronan assembled a powerful production team including Technical Director Cathy Rylant, Musical Director Andrea Haulenbeek, Choreographer Kim Nowlan and Producer Juliette Longchamp. Parent volunteers Victoria Francis and Kerry Castano return as costume co-chairs, working their magic with needle and thread.

“We wanted to do a high energy, positive show,” Cronan observes. “‘Birdie’ is upbeat and fun. The music is very demanding to sing — a push for some of our kids’ developing voices.”

Cronan is particularly excited to be working with middle school students. She recently attended an intensive three-day workshop in New York City for directors working with young people. As the parent of a Williston Central School student, Cronan has an inside scoop on this particular age group.

“It’s amazing to see where we started and where we are today,” Cronan muses. “It’s coming together. I see the kids really pushing themselves to bring the show to the next level.”

One challenge Cronan faces is working with kids facing so many demands on their time. Competing activities — sports and other arts — sometimes conflict with rehearsal time. It’s difficult to run a scene if several key actors are missing. More stringent choices will be imposed when our kids reach high school. For now, there’s room on stage and opportunity for them to dabble in many things.

“None of this would happen if it wasn’t for parent volunteers,” Cronan observes.

From building sets to creating costumes to designing hair and make-up, parental involvement is evident throughout the production.

Williston’s exceptional theater program is a legacy of Al Myers. With a real auditorium, including professional lighting and sound systems — a boon for a middle school — we’re raising kids who love to sing, dance and perform their hearts out.

Al Myers left big theatrical shoes to fill. Andrea Cronan is borrowing a few ideas from Al’s playbook while spreading some of her own magic theater dust. See you at the show.


At publication, limited tickets were available by calling 879-5836.


Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at or