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My Experience Performing in ‘Bye Bye Birdie’

By Luke Leonetti

I’ve always been a fan of musical theatre. Each year, my family goes to New York to see a Broadway show, and they’re always some of my favorite experiences. I’ve seen classics like Mamma Mia, Wicked, Newsies, and Jersey Boys; and some short-lived niche shows like Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and Rocky. I also used to attend the musicals the middle school did back when I was in elementary school living in Absecon, but they never compared to Broadway. I never actually performed in a school play before. I never really had a true passion to join one, since I never really thought singing on stage was that cool. That feeling you get where you want to perform never really came to me. Until last year.

 

Not having much to do on a Saturday night, I decided to go to see the Drama Guild perform Young Frankenstein live, assuming that the show would be cool but not fantastic. Oh boy I was wrong. That play was one of the best things I’ve ever seen, and as soon as it ended, I immediately regretted not trying out for that show. Not wanting to miss out on something like that again, I made a mental pact that, when auditions for the next musical came out, I would audition for it. I wasn’t interested in doing the fall play, since I had marching band at the same time and I honestly thought they were boring (Sorry, cast of The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge), so I skipped that. After some time had passed, around November, I learned from a friend that the musical we would be doing was Bye Bye Birdie. I didn’t have much of an idea on what that show was about, but with my vague understanding of the show, I checked the audition sheet and signed my name up for a Tuesday audition. After school that day, I went home and announced that I had decided to audition for the school play. After answering all my family’s questions, I realized that-oh god-I had to actually sing. Now, I wasn’t exactly confident in my singing ability. I am now, but this is because I performed in a musical that I practiced for for at least 3 months, and I was used to it. Back then, you really couldn’t make me sing in front of people. So obviously, I was no longer so high and mighty after finding out just what I actually had to do to perform. The requirements said that you couldn’t perform a Disney or pop song, that it had to be about 16-32 measures long, and you had to have the backing track played on either an mp3 player, a CD, or on the piano with sheet music. All of these specific rules were making me even more nervous. I had no idea what song to perform, and how I would actually play it. Really, the only song I had memorized that I could possibly audition with was the Dayman Song from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and that wouldn’t be appropriate for my first audition. The next couple of days were filled with me constantly finding songs from Broadway shows, and each song I couldn’t decide on. It seemed that I was going to be lost when it came to auditioning, but then my Dad found a song that I knew the words to, and would be appropriate for an audition. That song was Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head by BJ Thomas. After performing it a few times in front of my family, I knew I was ready for my audition.

 

After school that day, I went to the auditorium with several other people, and got ready for my audition. Before that, I had to fill out some paperwork about the audition, and realized just how hard it would be for me to get a part. I had no idea what character to audition for (I just wrote down 3 of the first male characters I saw), had no past experience with theatre, and I didn’t even know my vocal range (I later learned that I am an alto). I didn’t let my lack of experience bring me down, however, and prepared for my routine.

 

I got up on stage, in front of the director and everybody else in the auditorium, all knowing that they would be judging me based off of my performance. I got the tech crew to start up the backing track, and as soon as the opening chords started, I sang. I sang better than I had ever done before, and didn’t miss a single beat. As soon as I walked off that stage and people began congratulating me, I knew I had done great. Then, after everybody’s singing was done for the day, we then started the dancing routine. This was a part where our choreographer would show us a small portion of a dance, we would copy, then do another small portion and add that onto the existing part, and eventually we’d have the whole routine down for us to show. I didn’t do as well on this portion as I did with singing, but it was still decent.

 

After the auditions were over, I waited for the callback sheet to be listed. This was the list of people invited back to audition for major parts, and each day I walked past it, hoping I would see my name. Finally, I saw the sheets listed, and: my name wasn’t on there. I felt so unhappy that I didn’t get a callback, since that meant I wasn’t even considered having a starring role. However though, I soon got over that disappointment when I knew that the full cast list hadn’t come out yet. Even if I didn’t get a good part, I’d still be in the show, and do great in whatever part I got. Once again, I waited for ages for the cast list to come out. Passing the time before I got my parts, I decided to watch the Bye Bye Birdie movie to get an idea of what the play was about, which is probably what I should have done before I actually auditioned.

 

Basically, the movie is about a popular heart-throb rockstar named Conrad Birdie getting drafted into the army. As a publicity stunt before he leaves, songwriter Albert Peterson and his secretary Rosie DeLeon arrange a production on the Ed Sullivan Show where Conrad will kiss a lucky girl while performing his new song, “One Last Kiss”. The girl chosen is Kim MacAfee from Sweet Apple, Ohio. However, Kim is dating a boy named Hugo Peabody, and he feels threatened over his girlfriend kissing another guy on TV. Although the movie is nothing more than a train to make Ann Margaret a star (she plays Kim) and takes a lot of creative liberties from the play, it is very well acted and the songs are fantastic.

 

Anyway, right before winter break started, the cast list finally came out. I raced to the hallway to see what part I got, and it turned out, I got 4 ensemble parts: police officer, Sweet Apple Parent, stagehand, and Shriner. Although it wasn’t anything relatively big, I didn’t care at all. I made my first play!

 

After several months of practicing, the show finally started, and it was a blast. Finally getting to perform on stage in front of so many people was incredible. Each scene brought the house down, and made this one of the best shows Ocean City has done. People such as Stella, who played Rosie, and TJ, who played Conrad Birdie, wowed the audience with their incredible singing and acting (my Dad even said that Stella will have a future on Broadway), while others such as Michael Beebe, who played Harry MacAfee, and Caroline, who played Momma Peterson, made audiences roar with laughter with their excellent comedic timing. The show rocked the school, and will be remembered for the ages of how great it was.

 

Backstage was even better. All of the cast got together (boys vs girls) to perform our “Energy”, which basically are comedic skits based off of our cast experiences or shows. There was actually nothing off limits, so the first night’s sketches were pretty edgy. After that our sketches became much more low-key, but were still incredibly funny. Sketches such as Conrad Birdie fighting in the army by singing and dancing and West Side Story: The Italian Version are hard to top for future casts. Our after-parties were fun as well. We had dinner at Applebee’s and an awards ceremony called the “Peaches and Cannoli’s” awards (don’t ask about the title, we don’t know why either). It was bittersweet going to those parties. It was fun getting awards and getting emotional over them, but it was sad when we realized that our senior friends were going off to college and we wouldn’t be able to perform with them again. So many people cried during those ceremonies, and I don’t blame them for it. We’ll all miss them next year.

 

Doing this show was an awesome experience that I’m glad I took part in. I can’t wait to do this again next year, with all new cast members. Thank you to everybody I met performing, and thank you for putting on such a great show. You deserve your round of applause!

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