March 4, 2010
By Tim Simard
Cast members in the Williston Central School spring musical listened with rapt attention on Tuesday afternoon as artistic director Andrea Cronan explained a key moment in the play. Working with eight actors, Cronan directed the students in a scene of “Bye Bye Birdie,” the play to be performed in May by a cast of 64 middle schoolers.
Observer photo by Tim Simard
Andrea Cronan (left), artistic director for the Williston Central School spring musical ‘Bye Bye Birdie,’ works with cast members on a scene on Tuesday afternoon.
Observer photo by Tim Simard
‘Bye Bye Birdie’ cast members (from left) Alec Collins, Arlo Cohen and Thomas Lang review the script during rehearsal on Tuesday.
A popular production dating back to 1960, “Bye Bye Birdie” involves comedy mixed with elaborate musical numbers. Cronan said it’s the perfect play to put on this year.
“Especially after last year, we needed a really upbeat play,” Cronan said.
In April 2009, longtime Williston Central School teacher and drama director Al Myers passed away unexpectedly. He died from injuries after falling from a ladder while working on the set of last year’s musical, “The Wizard of Oz.”
But as the show business saying goes, “the show must go on.” Students performed the musical a week after Myers’ death, with the help of many people associated with Lyric Theatre, an acting troupe made up of volunteers around the Champlain Valley.
Cronan had worked with Myers through several Lyric Theatre productions. Now, she says it’s a challenge directing a musical at the school, especially after Myers’ longtime influence.
“Part of it’s reinventing the wheel, and part of it’s trying to figure out how it was done in the past,” she said.
But Cronan has help. Lyric Theatre member Cathy Rylant serves as technical director, Andrea Haulenbeek works as the musical director and Kim Nowlan returns as choreographer. Julie Longchamp, who taught with Myers at Swift House and took over directing duties on “The Wizard of Oz” following his death, oversees as producer and “boss,” Cronan said.
It’s a large number of people, considering Myers worked solely as producer and artistic, musical and technical director on most of the school’s productions, Nowlan said.
“We had a lot of shoes to fill for one person,” said Nowlan, who worked with Myers on four school musicals.
For all but one of the Williston plays, Haulenbeek watched from the audience. Now as musical director, she finds it fulfilling to be an integral part of the school’s theater legacy, much of it fostered by Myers.
“He built the culture of the theater in this school,” Haulenbeek said.
Cronan said it was an easy decision to do an exciting comedy like “Bye Bye Birdie.” The musical, written by Michael Stewart with music and lyrics by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, takes place in 1958. The plot deals with fictional rock musician Conrad Birdie on the eve of shipping out with the U.S. army. Much of the musical focuses on a small-town girl who wins a chance to meet Birdie before he ships out. The real-life drafting of Elvis Presley and media frenzy surrounding it inspired the play. In 1963, Hollywood produced a popular film based on the musical, starring Dick Van Dyke and Ann-Margret.
Cronan said the play continues to be popular today, as evidenced by how many Williston Central students tried out for roles. More students auditioned than there were spots available. In a difficult decision, Cronan cut 18 students to round out a cast of 64.
Since many of the musical’s characters are teenagers, she said the cast easily relates to them even though the story takes place more than fifty years ago.
“The thing about the show is that it’s really on the risqué side, so we’ve had to up the silly factor instead,” Cronan said.
With two months to go until show time, Cronan, Nowlan and Haulenbeek expect “Bye Bye Birdie” to follow in a long, successful line of Williston Central School productions and honor the hard work put in by Myers.
“I think Al really believed in having kids be a part of as much of the show as possible and we’re doing that as well,” Cronan said.