An age of innocence
Growing up is always full of ups and downs, but teenage angst has never been this fun.When the Vail Performing Arts Academy presents "Bye Bye Birdie" Friday and Saturday, Aug. 1-2, at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek, audience members are sure to sigh over remembered first loves, cringe over fights over hairstyles with parents, and relate with poignancy to teen identity crisis and the age-old struggle for independence.Most of all, however, "Bye Bye Birdie" is pure fun, with some of the most upbeat, energizing musical numbers and delightful, comical action around.Set in the 1960s a time when teen idols were born and teenage girls screamed their hearts out with undying love for rock stars Bye Bye Birdie’s unabashed cornball humor highlights a time of innocence, yet presents teenage concerns and generation gap problems still faced today."The cool part about this play is that is has all ofthe fun and humor of the 60s, yet it still manages tocapture the issues of today," explains Vail PerfromingArts Academy executive director Annah Scully."It’s ‘Leave it to Beaver’ set to music," adds Birdie director and choreographer Beth Swearingen-Kuntz.Although largely a teenage story, Bye Bye Birdie has a multi-generation focus, following three comically intertwined story lines. The play opens as "Conrad Birdie" (played to lip-curling, hip-swiveling perfection by Sean Pack), a teenage idol of Elvis stature, is drafted into the army, to the heartbreak of teenage girls across the nation. At the same time, "Rose" (Kayla Cheatham) is trying to persuade her brilliant, song-writing boyfriend, "Albert" (Anthony Scully) to renounce the music business and become an English professor and lead a "normal life." Albert, however, says he can’t quit or marry Rose until he earns enough money to support them.Clever Rose comes up with the brilliant idea of having Conrad bestow a kiss to some lucky teenage girl, chosen at random, on national television and then sing the song, "One Last Kiss." When Albert says he’s never heard of the song, Rose snappily replies, "You haven’t written it yet."This ingenious plan is jeopardized, however, by the monumental occurrence of the lucky girl in question, "Kim MacAfee" (Ashley Woodworth), getting "pinned" to high school sweetheart "Hugo Peabody" (Harrison Huntoon.). Understandably, Hugo is not thrilled when his girlfriend begins swooning over Conrad, and the mayhem and fun begins.It’s obvious this cast of nearly 65 actors, ages 7 to 17, relates to this play. As even the youngest and newest members of this annual children’s theater workshop glow with enthusiasm, brilliant smiles and energy. And the play includes many stellar performances, large and small."We’ve got some really, really outstanding leads this year," assures Swearingen-Kuntz.Sean Pack, who plays mega idol, Conrad Birdie, is a classically trained singer who aspires to make a career on the stage one day."He’s a real American Idol," assures Scully, who adds that when the girls scream in delight over his singing in the first act, they’re not just acting.Ashley Woodworth is plays the sweet Kim MacAfee the lucky girl chosen to be kissed by Conrad on national TV."She gives a new meaning to ingenue," says Swearingen-Kuntz.A handful of other Vail Performing Arts Academy vets give wonderful performances as well. Kayla Cheatham gives a strong performance as the long suffering, but determined Rose."She’s excellent," says Swearingen-Kuntz. Anthony Scully, another Vail Performing Arts veteran who has had numerous leads, plays Albert, who is caught between being a dutiful son and keeping Rose. "He’s very, very good. He’s absolutely charming."Heidi Unger, new to the Vail Performing Arts Academy workshop this year, "blew our socks" off as "Ursula," says Swearingen-Kuntz. Ursula is both Kim’s best friend and the musical’s intermittent narrator, with a high-voltage exuberance as the love-struck Birdie fan that is irresistible. Connor Wallace, also new to the theatrical workshop, has great stage presence as Randolf, Kim’s younger brother. He’s having such a wonderful experience at the workshop, the elementary schooler says he now wants to be an actor (and a motor bike racer).Harrison Huntoon makes an adorable Hugo, and Kyle Bruntz and Jessica Hanson, who play Kim’s parents, Mr.and Mrs. MacAfee, add their seasoned talents to their roles. And Jamie Simmonds steals many a scene with hermelodramatic turn as Albert’s "Mama" the ultimate queen of the guilt trip, and every perspective daughter-in-laws worse nightmare.But the whole cast is packed with talent, including several talented dancers and singers."It’s a much different play then we have done in the past, since I joined the productions," explains Swearingen-Kuntz, now in her fourth season with the Vail Performing Arts Academy. Past productions have been period pieces or character studies, such as Guys and Dolls," "Music Man," and "Fiddler on the Roof." "Bye Bye Birdie is nothing but fun. It’s theatrical fluff that the kids can have fun with."Theatrical fluff or not, it has rousing songs and show stopping numbers, choreographed by Swearingen-Kuntz, aBroadway vet with such credits as playing leads in "Cats" and "Chorus Line." All the musical numbers are high energy and filled with dance steps reminiscent of the time."Telephone Hour" is pure fun, with its teenage chat line set to snappy, catchy music and 60s teenage lingo. Entwined with a lot of mini solos, it showcases the numerous great voices these talented kids have."Put On a Happy Face," is a cute number done with a chorus of girls with fine voices backing up Albert as he tries to cheer a distraught Birdie fan. "Honestly Sincere" rocks with cornball humor, energetic performances and exuberant dance steps, as Conrad Birdie makes the entire town of Sweet Apple swoon with his fine voice and hip-twitching. Along with these showstoppers, there is the sweet "One Boy," where Kim tries to reassure Hugo that he is the one, and Rose adds her, wiser, mature perspective and voice. Yet the musical’s hottest number is sure to be "Lot of Livin’ to Do," which sets the whole cast loose with excellent vocals and sizzling dance steps."This is the best vocal talent we have had, since I’ve been here," exclaims musical director Linda Trotter, now in her fourth season.Swearingen-Kuntz has customized several scenes and musical numbers to give more children stage time and a chance to shine. For instance, in the scene at the conclusion of the Ed Sullivan show, the number, "Rosie," is shared by the chorus, rather than just sung by Albert."Beth does such a brilliant job of making sure everybody feels important," Scully says.The Vail Performing Arts Academy is a four-week, non-profit, children’s theater workshop. The students not only put on a wonderful, surprisingly professional performance at the end, they hone acting, singing and dancing techniques as well with theatrical, vocal and dance exercises.But the children also spend part of the workshop just relaxing and being kids, playing soccer or Twister in the park in Singletree, next to where they rehearse."They get to have summer fun and put on a wonderfulproduction," Scully says.Swearingen-Kuntz explains that one of the reasons Bye Bye Birdie promises to be one of the best Vail Performing Arts Academy productions yet has a lot to do with staff."The staff this year is the best ever," she says. In addition to Scully, Swearingen-Kuntz and Trotter, Emily Sacks is back providing her amazing costumes. Assistant choreographer Collin Meihrieg, a former choreographer and professional dancer, lends his talents as assistant choreographer; Tommy Dodge, a teacher at Eagle Valley Middle School, assists Trotter with vocals; and parent Patty Pack helps with organization. In addition, the staff is receiving invaluable help from other young people such as Josh Leach, Whitney Simmonds and Amanda Huntoon as production assistants.Both Scully and Swearingen-Kuntz emphasize that the performances and workshops would not be possible without the support of the all the parents and the community, such as the Buckman/Blount Community Performance Fund of the Vilar Center, which helps offset theatrical costs."We want to express our profound gratitude to our sponsors and let them know how much their support means," Scully says.All in all, Bye Bye Birdie promises to be one of the most fun evenings you will spend this summer."Everybody will be smiling," assures Scully. "Their cheeks will hurt."Bye Bye Birdie will be presented at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 1 and at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 2. Tickets are $11 and can be purchased by calling 845-TIXS, or by visiting the Vilar Center for the Arts Box Office in Beaver Creek. If you are interested in helping to sponsor the non-profit Vail Performing Arts Academy, contact Annah Scully at 926-2370.