BYE, BYE, BIRDIE Runs June 1-17 at Dickson's Renaissance Center


Bye Bye Birdie-conjuring up memories of Elvis Presley and the fan fervor that greeted a lot of musical acts in the 1950s and '60s-takes center stage at Dickson's Renaissance Center in June as the Renaissance Players present the musical theater classic June 1-17.

The exuberant musical opens in the Anne Deason Performance Hall at The Renaissance Center, with performances on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees, which will include a special Father's Day Luncheon Show.

"Although the musical takes place in the early 1960s, the idol fever and teenage angst in the story is just as strong with today's teens. The "Telephone Hour" song could easily take place over cell phones and texting-and the fervor over Conrad Birdie could just as well be Justin Bieber," says Pacer Harp, the Renaissance Center's artistic director of theater.

"Dance is another thing that's very popular today, as it was in the 1960s, and plays a big part in the original musical. So we're very excited to see the thrilling dance routines that Bryan Wlas has designed! I know they'll be stunning and the kids are very proud of the work that they've put into the production numbers."

The Renaissance Players production of Bye Bye Birdie is directed by Wlas, who also handles the choreography in the show. The music director is Nathan W. Brown, with Jon Kopischke as assistant director, Nikki Blunt is stage manager, Whitney Petty is assistant stage manager and Michelle Valenti as dance captain. Renaissance theatre crew regulars include Rachel Gallup for costumes, Nathan Ray for lghting and Ray Dryden providing sound design.

Inspired by the story of Elvis Presley being drafted into the Army in 1958, and the ensuing media melee that surrounded his departure, writer Michael Stewart crafted this fictionalized version of teen heartthrob Conrad Birdie (whose name is inspired by then-rock and roll star Conway Twitty). With music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams, the original 1961 Broadway production became an instant hit, starring Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera, Paul Lynde, Dick Gautier, Susan Watson, Kay Medford and Charles Nelson Reilly. The show won four Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Dick Van Dyke), Best Direction of a Musical and Best Choreography (both for Gower Champion). Chita Rivera was also nominated for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.

The score for Bye Bye Birdie features many songs that became popular hits during the time and remain fan favorites, including: "The Telephone Hour," "How Lovely to Be a Woman," "We Love You, Conrad!," "Put on a Happy Face," "A Healthy, Normal, American Boy," "One Boy," "Honestly Sincere," "One Last Kiss," "Kids" and "A Lot of Livin' to Do."

Following the Broadway and London theatrical successes, a film version of Bye Bye Birdie was released in 1963 that also starred Van Dyke in the role of Albert Peterson, with Maureen Stapleton as Mama Mae Peterson, Janet Leigh as Rosie and Lynde reprising his role as Mr. MacAfee. The role of Conrad Birdie was actually first offered to Elvis Presley but his manager Colonel Tom Parker declined, feeling the role lampooned Elvis' pop stardom.  The movie also featured then pop star Bobby Rydell as Hugo Peabody and an up-and-coming Ann-Margret as Kim MacAfee. The role made Ann-Margret a superstar and lead to the real Elvis Presley asking her to star with him in 1964's Viva Las Vegas. Also making an appearance in the film was Ed Sullivan, host of the popular variety show that helped many young singers become stars and household names.

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.

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