Park City High School drama department bids ‘Bye Bye Birdie’
November 20, 2013
When Elvis Presley was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1958, it caused a stir among his then teeny-bopper audience and their parents.
It also inspired writer Michael Stewart and composer Charles Strouse to create the Tony Award-winning 1960 Broadway musical "Bye Bye Birdie," which debuted in 1960.
The main character, Conway Birdie — named in honor of one of Presley’s contemporaries, Conway Twitty — is, like Presley, a rock ‘n’ roll musician about to be drafted.
As a send-off, his publicist plans an event where Birdie performs one last song before entering the military.
"Bye Bye Birdie" is one of Park City High School drama teacher Zac Zumbrenen’s favorite musicals and he selected it for the school’s fall musical that will open on Thursday, Nov. 21, in the Eccles Center.
"[The school] was already thinking of doing ‘Legally Blonde,’ but I chose ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ based mostly on the students in the drama program," Zumbrenen said during an interview with The Park Record. "I also like this musical for this age group. There is a lot in this show that the kids can relate to when it comes to being fans of whoever the big heartthrob is at the time. I though it would be a fun show for them."
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It also examines the way teens find ways to communicate with each other.
"While the play has them talking constantly through old telephones, the kids these days have their cell phones and tablets," Zumbrenen said. "And with what’s happening with our military today, it was pertinent. I mean, the more things change the more they stay the same."
The original Broadway production of "Bye Bye Birdie" won four Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for Dick Van Dyke’s performance and Best Choreography and Best Direction for director Gower Champion.
The challenge of producing "Bye Bye Birdie" at Park City High School isn’t about whether or not the kids in the show can relate to the story, but how many students are involved, said Zumbrenen, who taught drama for eight years at Treasure Mountain Jr. High.
"High school shows can be challenging, because they have more working parts to them," he said. "The tech aspect alone is great, because we will be presenting the production in the Eccles Center. It’s a wonderful facility to work in and it’s a great venue to perform in."
Also, the musical marks the first time Zumbrenen will be working with a live orchestra in nearly 20 years.
"A lot of theaters I’ve worked with used canned music, so to have a live student orchestra is a lot of fun," he said.
Chris Taylor, PCHS director of bands, is directing the musicians in the pit this time around.
"I believe there are 25 students in the orchestra and they sound fantastic," Zumbrenen said.
In addition to the young musicians, there are more than 100 students involved in the production.
The cast, alone, features 34 students, Zumbrenen said.
"The PCHS Dance Company is also doing a number in the show and they have 22 dancers," he said. "Then we have the 20 to 25 kids on the tech crews."
While some of the kids may feel the music in "Bye Bye Birdie" may be dated, Zumbrenen feels it’s important to introduce his students to the history of musical theater.
"I’m always trying to find a balance when it comes to presenting musicals," he explained. "The kids always want to go and do the new musicals and what’s currently playing on Broadway, because I think they feel the music is more in tune to the era that they are used to.
"There is a lot of great new stuff out there, but it’s important for me to show the students where musical theater came from," Zumbrenen said. "Without ‘Bye Bye Birdie,’ or even further back to ‘Oklahoma,’ we wouldn’t have ‘Wicked’ or ‘Matilda’ and it’s important to introduce them to how wonderful the music and shows were back then and how they relate to us even today."
Zumbrenen’s favorite piece of music is "Kids," which features the line "What’s the matter with kids today."
"As I get older, and I as I teach longer and the students I teach keep getting younger, I would say that song really sums it up," he said with a laugh. "I like the old-school, 1960s Broadway musicals, and this has some great characters and music in it."
Another thing that Zumbrenen enjoys about working on the show is working with some of his former junior-high students.
"I taught a lot of these kids when they were eighth and ninth graders at Treasure Mountain," he said. "So I haven’t taught them for a couple of years.
"What’s been fun for me is to see them as juniors and seniors, and it’s not how much they’ve matured, but how much their talents have grown. There is a great group of students here."
Park City High School drama department will present "Bye Bye Birdie" on Thursday, Nov. 21, through Saturday, Nov. 23. Evening performances will begin at 7 p.m. and there will be a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets are $8 for general admission and $5 for students at the door.