The Hayes High School production of “Bye Bye Birdie” opens tonight and runs through Saturday.
The cast of the show has been rehearsing the show since January and will hold four performances over the next three days: tonight at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
The show follows the drama that ensues when Elvis-inspired teen idol Conrad Birdie, played by Hayes senior Ryan Gray, visits a small Ohio town as part of a PR stunt before he is conscripted into the army.
The director of the show, Dr. Dara Gillis, said she picked the show for its broad appeal, large cast and joyful message.
“We wanted a show that would bring happiness to our world at a time when we desperately need it,” Gillis said. “We wanted to be reminded of some of the simpler things in life: young love and music that makes you want to dance.”
Gray said Tuesday that even though he’s a senior and has been doing theater for six years, he still gets nervous during the week of the show. Gray added he watched a lot of high school productions of the show during rehearsals, and he wanted to put another spin on the character.
“A lot of Conrads stand still and…” Gray said, pausing to do a dance mimicking Elvis’ famous hip movements. “But I wanted to take mine and do full out Elvis choreography. I think I took a new approach on the role than the usual approach.”
While he wasn’t emotional on Tuesday, Gray said he expects he will be by the end of the production.
“This is probably my last musical for awhile,” he said.
Gray said he is undecided about what school he will attend in the fall, but he plans to study mechanical engineering and physics.
Senior Rachel White, who plays Kim MacAfee, said she’s “definitely nervous” heading into the performances.
“There’s always pre-show nerves, but being a senior, there’s a lot of experience that comes with that…” White said. “I think we’re doing really, really well. All of us are having a little bit of vocal fatigue, but we’re going easy during the school day. I hope everyone comes and sees it. It’s going to be Hayes High School quality.”
White said she plans to attend Purdue University in the fall to study aerospace engineering.
Cameron Cockerham and Ethan Terry play Kim MacAfee’s parents in the musical.
“I’m a little nervous because I’ve never had this big of a part before,” Terry, a junior, said Tuesday.
Cockerham, a senior, said while she’s a bit nervous, she’s happy she gets to close out her high school career with this type of show.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a production at this scale,” Cockerham said. “A lot of people are coming with high expectations and of course, you want to meet them. Seniors are getting really sentimental. The Hayes theater program is more of a family than a program. It’s really sad that I’m almost done with this family.”
Cockerham said she plans to attend Emmanuel College in the fall to study political science.
The show is a first at Hayes for many cast members, including Carissa Matson, a freshman who plays Mrs. Peterson.
Matson said the show has been difficult but worthwhile.
“It’s been really challenging as the directors told me it would be, but it’s been really rewarding and lots of fun,” Matson said. “It’s super exciting to step out of my comfort zone. I love this cast. It’s a lot different than the musicals I was in in middle school. It’s been so much fun. I want to audition again and again.”
This is the first time that Mavis Roach, a freshman who plays Kim’s younger brother, has had a solo in a show at Hayes, which Roach said was “eye opening.”
“It’s been so much fun,” he said. “Everyone is so nice and so supporting. Even though I’ve been doing (theater) since second grade, it feels so cool to be part of this amazing community. These people make you feel like they’ve known you your whole life. I’ve learned a lot of new things. I’m nervous but very excited.”
Fellow freshman Nicholas Hejmanowski plays Hugo, Kim’s boyfriend, a comic relief character in the show.
“It’s a great time. I love it…,” he said. “I’m just kind of winging it.”
Hejmanowski added he’s enjoying the on-stage and off-stage experience at Hayes.
“It’s a really good community,” he said. “There’s a lot of fun people. Everyone is here for the same reason. Besides having fun on stage, it’s great to have a group of people that you can have fun with off stage as well. I’m nervous because it’s my first big speaking part, but I’m not unconfident. I’m sure I can do it.”
Gillis said she hopes people come out to support the show.
“They can expect two-and-a-half hours of fun!” she said. “This show is really comical, and the students are doing a terrific job of delivering great comedic acting; something that is never easy for young performers. This cast has made it look effortless. They will have you dancing in your seat and laughing out loud!”
Tickets are available at onthestage.tickets/delaware-hayes-thespians.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.