DHS performs ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ as a return to musical theater

Spring musical returns to the stage after last years cancellation

MATTHEW SHINKLE/The Sun: Delran High School seniors Claire Flynn and Grant Stiglich are two of the many theater students excited to bring the spring musical back to the stage this year with a production of ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’

Delran High School was one of the few in the area to have its music and theater department get through all of their showings for their 2020 spring musical before the COVID pandemic forced the cancellation of countless events over the next two years, ranging from plays, musicals, athletic events and more.

The pandemic, therefore, forced last year’s seniors at Delran to graduate without having a chance to perform a musical on stage, for what would’ve been their final high school performance. Luckily for this year’s class, the spring musical was once again able to return.

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The return to the stage, Spring Musical Director Cara Dunn said, was something all students were eager for after a difficult past two years. 

“We happened to be one of the lucky few schools that got their entire run in 2020 before COVID shut everything down the weekend after our last show,” Dunn said. “It’s been incredible to get the kids back on stage, it’s been huge for them. They’ve all been the absolute best in terms of wanting to be here and be supportive of one another and the program in general because they’re so happy to have this opportunity back.” 

Delran’s first live show, since the start of the pandemic, was earlier this school year during the fall. But the return of the musical, which typically comes with a larger show with more students being involved, comes along with its fair share of challenges. 

During rehearsal and throughout the last two months, students have worn masks, which can be difficult for performing. However, much like with athletics, students are able to perform without the masks on, while those in attendance will have to wear them. 

Another challenge, Dunn said, was the year off from performing at the high school which made it slightly difficult to get started.

“Rehearsing and singing and dancing in masks has been unusual for some of the kids, and then when it came to the underclassmen, I didn’t know who was a freshman and who was a sophomore at first because it had been so long since we were all together,” Dunn said. “Looking at the seniors, the last time they performed they were sophomores, so they skipped a year of leadership and got thrown into a sort of tough position, but they’ve taken it in stride.”

This year, Delran High School’s spring musical is ‘Bye Bye Birdie,’ which Dunn said was an easy selection due to its ease of performing and light-hearted nature, as the department looked forward to returning to the stage and wanted to make it as fun as possible. 

“It’s something light-hearted that I think we needed,” Dunn said. “One of the songs in ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ is ‘Put on a Happy Face,’ and that was just kind of our goal for audiences that hadn’t been back to a theater in so long, to put on a happy face.” 

Two of the leads in this year’s musical — seniors Grant Stiglich and Claire Flynn — previously performed as leads during the 2020 spring musical ‘Mamma Mia,’ but have also had a long history of performing together on stage even before the pair reached high school. Now the pair are eagerly awaiting their chance to perform one final time before leaving Delran High School. 

Having been told last summer that there was a chance for a spring musical, Stiglich said he prepared all summer with the hopes of auditioning and getting another leading role in whatever spring musical was selected this year. 

“I prepped all summer trying to get ready for it in hopes that, if we could get it done, that I’d be ready,” Stiglich said. “It was really sad last year to see the seniors I was close friends with last year not get to put on a show during their senior year, so I was looking forward to this.”

The only curveball Stiglich has been thrown, with regard to the musical this year, is the fact that his character tap dances in the performance, something he said he admittedly had not done before. But the opportunity to practice this new skill it in anticipation of the show, he said, was worth it. 

“I was surprised by the amount of dancing that I’d have to do throughout the show, especially during one of the main songs with ‘Put on a Happy Face,’” Stiglich said. “I have two pretty experienced dancers alongside me throughout that song, and I wasn’t very experienced at all coming in, so I had to put in a lot of time to at least blend in and look as good as I can.” 

Flynn, who plans to pursue theater in college following graduation, has played a large part in the musical’s development over the past several months. According to Dunn, she took on the role of apprentice vocal director this year, in an effort to assist in leading vocal rehearsals alongside staff members, something she also did sophomore year as well. 

Flynn, along with her classmates as a whole, have a strong bond rooted in musical theater, she said, having led them to work hard towards making the production of this year’s iteration possible and as best as it can be.

“We were going to do a show with whatever it takes to do, whatever regulations we need to obey and whatnot,” Flynn said. “This class has a really strong connection to theater, we didn’t want something to happen to cause us to miss that again this year too.”

The passing of approximately two years of time caused massive changes and interruptions in many walks of life, such as for Flynn, who had originally hoped to gather more tape and experience on stage while sending out college applications for musical theater. 

Regardless, the opportunity to be back out there once again, is one that her and her entire class say they are thankful for.

“For me, with sending out college applications and auditions, I was missing a lot of rehearsals for auditions which made it a little more difficult. But they helped make it as easy as possible to make sure that I could be in the show and still rehearse,” Flynn said. “As a class and as a school, we’ve kind of been through a lot this year. It’s been a little bit of an emotional journey, but we got here and that’s what matters.”

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