BYE, BYE, BIRDIE Runs Now thru 6/17 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 tonight, June 1 through June 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.


The Renaissance Players' production of Bye Bye Birdie features 40 actors of all ages, and all levels of acting experience, from the Dickson/Nashville area. In the title character as Conrad Birdie is Brad Burns, a newcomer to the Renaissance Players with a lot of experience in Nashville theatre, including Nashville School of the Arts, the Nashville Shakespeare Festival and MBA/Harpeth Hall theatre collaboration. In the roles of Conrad Birdie's agent and secretary are Carl Blunt, making his Renaissance Players debut as Albert Peterson, and TRC favorite Michelle Valenti as Rose Alvarez. Another popular veteran to the Renaissance and regional theatre stage is Marilyn Fair as Albert's mother Mae Peterson. Playing the lead teenagers are TRC regulars: Stephanie Wright as Kim MacAfee, M. Zane Jordan as Hugo Peabody and Nathan Jansen and Laura Williams as Harry and Doris MacAfee.

Bye Bye Birdie runs June 1 through June 17, with performances every Friday and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are:  $15 (adults), $12 (seniors), and $8 (children 12 and under). A 20% discount is offered for groups of 15 or more. A special Father's Day lunch and show is slated for Sunday, June 17 at 1 p.m. Lunch ticket prices are: $25 (adults), $22 (seniors) and $18 (children 12 and under) and include salad, full lunch buffet /dessert and show. Gratuity is not included.

New this year for all of the Renaissance Center's theatre productions as well as concerts and workshops is that tickets are available 24/7 online at

The Renaissance Players is the center's community theatre troupe. With more than 400 members, The Players present productions each year that include popular musicals and plays. Shows are cast through open auditions and performances are presented in the center's 450-seat Performance Hall or the Gaslight Theatre. The Renaissance Players provides Middle Tennesseans with an opportunity to work with the professional directors, actors, technicians and craftsmen from The Renaissance Center to present productions comparable to most professional theatre companies. In addition to Bye Bye Birdie, the 2012 RP theatrical season includes: Disney's Beauty and the Beast,Jr (presented in March), Our Town (August 10-19), Into the Woods (October 19-28) and a revival of last year's hit holiday season offering A Christmas Carol, The Musical (November 30-December 16).

Pictured (at top) Brad Burns and Stephanie Wright; (at bottom) Carl Blunt and Marilyn Fair.

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis

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