This article was written by BenitoLink intern Juliana Luna
“Love,” “rosy,” “hysteria,” “natural,” “fun” and “colorful” are words used by the cast to describe the upcoming production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” by San Benito Stage Company.
Running for six performances between July 15 and 30 at the Hollister High School Auditorium, this summer show consisting of 32 actors and 13 crew is something of an American classic stage musical. The actors range from 10 to 50 years old.
“Parents bring in the mature level and we have the teens screaming for Conrad,” said director Derek Barnes. “Then we got little kids who are in the middle of everything saying ‘do I listen to my parents or do I not listen to them?’”
Barnes directed his first show, “The Addams Family,” for the Hollister High School Drama Department in March.
“Bye Bye Birdie” takes place in the 1950s, and was released as a film in 1963.
“It’s a reimagining of Elvis Presley when he went off to war,” said Barnes.
He said the play is about love, relationships and family, and tells the story of songwriter and music publisher Albert Peterson trying to keep his company’s reputation relevant following the news that his main client, Conrad Birdie, is getting drafted.
“So they try to hatch this plan to keep the popularity going,” said Barnes.
That plan is for Conrad Birdie to kiss a random fan on live television.
The Stage Company originally planned to do “Bye Bye Birdie” in 2020 but canceled because of COVID-19. Two years later, the coronavirus continues to be a challenge.
While doing “The Addams Family,” one cast member got COVID; with “Birdie” there were 15 reported cases among the cast.
“We had a big team effort,” said Barnes about the staff taking on different roles to supplement absences.
Angela Prak and Abby Chase, voice and choreography directors, filled in as main directors throughout rehearsals.
“The feeling of reviving a show is exciting and being able to come back is fun,” Prak said.
She was part of the Stage Company’s 2007 production of “Birdie” and joined as a staffer in 2014.
As a vivid dancer, Chase incorporated movements from movies set in the ’50s with some of her own style. Audiences might be reminded of dances from “Mamma Mia,” a movie Chase studied for inspiration.
After Chase showed what was required in the dances, she said many of the actors looked at her in shock.
“Oh, my God, that was very fast,” was their reaction to her performance, she said.
If anyone felt nervous about dancing, Chase let them know to keep going and smile, or at least make something up.
“Smile or have fun,” she said.
Kassandra Zarate plays Rosie Alvarez, Albert Peterson’s secretary—a strong, outspoken and confident woman.
Zarate couldn’t help but think of Rosie as herself.
“She is motivated and pushes herself because she doesn’t have anyone to do it,” said Zarate.
But there is one minor difference between Rosie and Zarate.
“I slouch and she stands tall and proud,” she said.
Zarate said when portraying a character, it’s more than just putting on makeup and a costume.
“As actors, we have to embody our character,” she said.
PJ Crocker plays the anxious Albert Peterson.
“He’s the manager but he’s a kinda lousy fiancé,” said Crocker.
Albert is engaged to Rosie—sort of.
“It’s complicated,” said Crocker and Zarate.
Since Albert runs around in his scenes, before each rehearsal Crocker prepares by dashing across the stage.
“I start to build this anxiety that he possesses all the time,” Crocker said.
In the first scenes, the audience may find Albert discreetly taking pills to calm down.
Kim MacAfee is the typical teenage girl of the 1950s, wanting to have fun and try something new. Grace Zendejas plays her as a loud yet sweet girl.
“Mother! Times are changing! Birdie is coming to kiss me!” MacAfee says throughout the show.
Because teenagers make decisions out of impulse, Zendejas said she tries to not think too much.
Kim’s mother Doris MacAfee is played by Shirley Murphy, who has a history of acting with the Stage Company and worked with many of the current cast members.
“I remember the kids when they were six years old,” Murphy said.
Murphy acted during her high school and college years. She’s performed in 11 shows with the SBSC.
“If you can get in mind of your character, who they are, what motivates them, it comes out naturally,” Murphy said.
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