BWW Interview: Reed Halvorson, Director of BYE BYE BIRDIE Opening This Weekend at Mill Town Players
This weekend, a new production of the classic 50's musical, Bye Bye Birdie, opens at Mill Town Players in Pelzer.
We recently asked the show's director, Reed Halvorson, to give us a little preview.
What's your experience with Bye Bye Birdie? Have you been in/directed the show before?
When I was in college at Minnesota State University Moorhead, our summer stock group "The Straw Hat Players" performed the play. We did four shows in about two months. I was cast in other shows, but we were all involved in every show, so I ended up running sound for that show. I watched it through all of tech and every performance thinking how much fun it was. I wanted to be in it so bad, it was that infectious of a show. Once I started to direct musicals, I soon put this show on my directing bucket list. I've come close to doing it on a couple occasions. In our work together at Woodmont over four years, I know Will and I discussed it on multiple occasions. [Halvorson and Will Ragland, Mill Town Players' Executive Artistic Director, both formerly taught drama at Woodmont High School] So, more than a year ago when he called and asked if I wanted to direct the show, I practically jumped through the phone. The experience has been even more fun and rewarding than I had hoped.
What accounts for the show's continuing appeal? Do you think it's still relevant?
Part of what is appealing is the basis in reality that is spun for comedic effect. Conrad Birdie was based on Conway Twitty, who was impersonating Elvis before becoming a big Country star. A manufactured star by a record company is nothing new and hasn't come close to going out of fashion. So, when Birdie is drafted into the army, going out with a bang by kissing a random girl-next-door on television following a new song entitled, "One Last Kiss," seems like a ploy that could very much happen today. The appearance of any celebrity in a quiet town would definitely ruffle everyone's feathers, and the town of Sweet Apple, Ohio, properly resembles that both in its turmoil as well as its exuberance. What I enjoy most is the consistent tones from the adults longing for a simpler time, while the teenagers dream of more freedom unencumbered by rules. Every person in the audience has heard or said both of these sentiments.
What is your directorial approach - do you see it as a period piece or are there some additional layers in there you're trying to highlight?
I approached this musical by focusing on both the American spirit and honest, hardworking values that are embedded in the setting of middle America and the time period. Additionally, I think I bring a comedic touch and encourage a lot of genuine energy from the entire cast. I want the enthusiasm and relationships to ring true for the audience, that they can't help but see themselves and the people they know onstage. It also combines my experience as a teacher with my experience as a director in the community, so I am comfortable directing both the teens and adults, no matter their experience. It also seems very appropriate for this show to be produced in the Pelzer Auditorium with the Mill Town Players, because the ideology of the theater and community match the spirit of this show perfectly. The concept of what a community theatre is all about is clearly visible in every inch and moment of this play. That is a really special thing that I take a lot of pride in being a part of.
Tell me a little about the cast and the rehearsal process so far.
What I enjoy about this show is that the cast is a great mix of experienced and inexperienced and young and old. The young people in this cast are really talented, featuring Drake King as Conrad Birdie, Meris Privette as Kim, and Jenna Gilmer as Ursula. These three are just a small sample of the talented young people. Then we have seasoned veterans like Kelly Wallace (Mae Peterson) and Rod McClendon (Harry MacAfee) to go along with Mark Wiles (Albert Peterson) and Meredith Woodard (Rose Alvarez) who will soon become household names. Many in the cast are making their Mill Town Players premieres, so the audience will be seeing a host of fresh faces. I feel confident that this cast will provide as good of a time for the audience as they have provided for me in the rehearsal process. Really just an absolute pleasure to work with all of them.
What do you hope the audience will get from this show?
This show is about family, about loved ones, and about community. The ability to overcome adversity in those relationships by focusing on the genuine love for one another and nothing else. That's all told through so much honest Americana in this '50's time capsule with a hilarious script and underrated songs. So it bounces between hilarity and charm that explains why it launched the career of Dick Van Dyke. People don't realize how much of this play they know, either from the movie or songs. I think it is a great way to enjoy the summer with a joyful, family friendly musical that will have you smiling from ear to ear the entire time.
Anything else you'd like to share?
This is all brought together by a group of first-rate designers like Kim Granner on set and Tony Penna on lights that have come together to create theatre that exceeds the $10 price tag. I'm extremely humbled and beyond thrilled to have finally had a chance to work with Will at this theatre and I look forward to more to come.
Bye Bye Birdie
July 14-Aug 6
Mill Town Players
Historic Pelzer Auditorium
214 Lebby Street
Pelzer, SC 29669
BYE BYE BIRDIE is one of the most captivating musical shows of our time. Inspired by the phenomenon of Elvis Presley and his draft notice into the Army, the story follows singer Conrad Birdie after he has been drafted to the army. As a farewell, the rock and roll star is scheduled to sing Albert Peterson's "One Last Kiss" and kiss a girl from Sweet Apple, Ohio, live on the Ed Sullivan Show. However, Conrad's hip-thrusting makes more than one man in town uncomfortable, many of whom attempt to stop the show from happening. Meanwhile, Rosie wonders if Alfred, for whom she does everything, will ever leave his mother's shadow. A satire crafted with the fondest affection, Bye Bye Birdie features such musical theater classics as What Did I Ever See in Him?, Put on a Happy Face, One Boy, A Lot of Livin' to Do, Kids, Rosie, and Spanish Rose.
Director - Reed Halvorson
Musical Director - Tim St. Clair II
Choreographer - Kimberlee Ferreira
Photo credit: Escobar Photography