MHS Theater brings a classic musical to the stage

The cast of “BYE BYE BIRDIE” rehearses the opening number on Tuesday, Feb. 18.

There are certain shows that withstand the test of time.

Despite being written and set in the 1950s, year after year a new generation discovers “Bye Bye Birdie” and brings the classic musical to the stage. On Friday, Feb. 28, it’s Moorestown High School’s turn.

“There is a great amount of foundation that comes in doing shows like this,” director and choreographer Erica Scanlon Harr said. “You get a good set of chops when you’ve worked on a show like Bye Bye Birdie.” 

The musical follows the series of events that transpire when rock star Conrad Birdie is drafted, and his fans are heartbroken at the news. Struggling songwriter Albert Peterson is hit especially hard, given that Birdie was just about to record his song. Albert’s girlfriend Rosie encourages him to write a new song that Birdie will perform on television for a special contest-winning fan. 

Scanlon Harr said the MHS show is lighter than some of the school’s previous productions. The piece is based on the fan reaction when Elvis Presley was drafted, so the musical follows the hysteria that ensues when a rock star heads off to war as his fans “lose their minds.”

There are more than 80 students involved in the Moorestown production, with about 40 on  stage and another 40 working behind the scenes on music, lighting, costumes, sound and makeup. Scanlon Harr said the show has great pacing and requires exuberant performances from everyone involved.

“It’s also such a high-energy show,” Scanlon Harr noted. “It doesn’t work if anyone is kind of coasting; it doesn’t play. Performers from this era went full out 100 percent. People wanted something with big, bold energy.”

Senior Nicholas Williams, who plays the show’s title character, said the sheer scale of the dance numbers has pushed him out of his comfort zone. Since Conrad Birdie is largely based on Elvis, Williams has been studying videos of Presley’s singing and dancing to prepare for the role. 

“Not necessarily to just replicate [him], but to kind of use [him]as an inspiration for how Birdie is, because Birdie is this hyperbole of Elvis, a caricature,” Williams said. 

Senior Tierney Howard, who plays Rosie, said the nostalgia of the ’50s music is engrossing.

“I love the music so much — whether I’m singing it or not,” Howard said. “A lot of the big group numbers are my favorite, watching all the numbers and all the energy everyone has.”

Fellow senior Griffin O’Neill, who plays Albert, said the show is a coming-of-age tale. He said his character, in particular, learns how to stop living under his mother’s influence and  pursue his own dreams. He said many of the other storylines follow characters who are coming into their own.

Williams said the show has something to offer for all ages. He said for the older demographic, “Bye Bye Birdie” is nostalgic, while for younger generations, there are  messages and principles that people can relate to today.

“My [directors] put in a tremendous amount of work trying to make this show as great as it can be,” Williams related. “I definitely think it’s something that the cast can say they had a lot fun doing it, and I think it’s something the audience will have fun watching as well.”

Performances of “Bye Bye Birdie” will take place at Moorestown High School on Friday, Feb. 28; Saturday, Feb. 29; Thursday, March 5; Friday, March 6; and Saturday, March 7 at 7 p.m. There will be a special matinee performance for senior citizens on Thursday, Feb. 27 at noon.

To purchase tickets in advance of the show, visit  http://moorestownhstheater.weebly.com. For more information, call the high school at (856)778-6610 x22368 or email moorestownhstheater@gmail.com.