July 14, 2008

Most of the youngsters already knew about Elvis Presley. Some were aware of the draft and the 'Ed Sullivan Show'. It's doubtful, however, if any had ever heard of Conrad Birdie or Sweet Apple, Ohio.

"I started out by giving them a history lesson: Welcome to the '50s," said Tina Sheing.

Since shortly after the academic year ended, a Brandywine School District summer program, under Sheing's direction, has been preparing a production of the 1960 Gower Champion musical 'Bye Bye Birdie'. The show is a take-off on the hoopla generated by Presley's induction into the Army.

None of the 76 students, who range in age age from eight to 18, is ready to go back, but for five weeks this summer they're enthusiastic about living for a little while in their grandparents' generation.

The cast and chorus rehearse a scene from 'Bye Bye Birdie'. Emily Bates Majewski is choreographer for the show.

Emily Ozer, who plays Kim, the teen selected to give Birdie a goodbye kiss on national television, said the show's music is "very catchy." She has been performing since she was seven and giving up five afternoons a week for five weeks for rehearsal is no problem because she loves theater.

Ozer got her acting start appearing in an Arden Gild production of William Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. She has since been in school shows and performed with the Wilmington Drama League and City Theater Company. "This is my first staring role," she said.

There will be four performances of 'Bye Bye Birdie' -- at 7 p.m. on July 24, 25 and 26 and a 2 p.m. matinee on July 26 -- in the Mount Pleasant High School auditorium. They are open to the public. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.

Sheing, who is giving up vacation time from her job at the University of Delaware, said the effort is worth it. "I love working with the kids." She has performed and directed both professionally and in community theater.

This show is unlike other high school productions with which she has been involved because the time available to put it together is more concentrated. "We usually have three months. We're doing this one in just five weeks," she said.

The cast has been rehearsing five afternoons a week for four hours.

The students accepted the challenge and have measured up to it well. "They all want to be here and do a good job," Sheing said. "The turnout was even more than we expected. We were looking for maybe 30 or 40, but we got twice that." The students paid $150 to be in the program.

Kenyon Parson, who plays Birdie, said he would like to make acting a career. School plays are the way to go because "if that's what you want you have to start early," he said.

Kendra Eckbold, who has the female lead, said it has been a good experience working with students from other schools. The program was not limited to students in Brandywine district schools and about a third attend other public and private schools.

Jordan Weagraff, who plays opposite Eckbold as Birdie's manager, said it is a great experience spending part of the summer putting on a show. "I love doing it. It keeps you busy and is better than sitting home in front of a computer," he said

Erin Courtney, a middle school student, said the program is a good start toward continuing into dramatics when she gets to high schools. "It's a great experience," she said. "And it's fun."

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2008. All rights reserved.

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