- This is Poly
“Opening night was very exciting as every opening night is, but it was very sad knowing that it was my last opening night as a middle schooler,” Tea Sabbagh ’27 said of Bye Bye Birdie. “This role prepared me for future roles as it was very challenging and brought out skills that I never knew I had.”
Director Andy Cooper-Leary worked for weeks with the talented cast of the musical Bye Bye Birdie to bring another great show to the stage of the Richard Perry Theatre in May. The result was a lively, feel-good show that had the both cast and audience buzzing!
During afternoon rehearsals, young actors practiced their lines and rehearsed songs like “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” under the direction of Maddy Wyatt. Conrad Birdie (Jesse Rogers ’27) and the ensemble executed the choreography Ashley Hacker had taught them. Again and again, the cast went through each song or scene with Cooper-Leary suggesting little fixes to make the production shine. All this while construction on Poly’s state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center could be heard just on the other side of the theatre wall — a new space that many of these students will use in years to come.
When Conrad Birdie, the greatest rock ’n’ roll performer of his day, is drafted, his fans are apoplectic. Songwriter Albert Peterson schemes to get Birdie on The Ed Sullivan Show as a farewell to sing his song, “One Last Kiss” to a young fan, Kim MacAfee. Albert’s girlfriend, Rosie, hopes that this move will bring Albert financial success and a break from his overbearing mother. Comedy and great music ensue.
This Middle School musical gave students the opportunity to expand their skills as actors, dancers, and singers.
Jesse Rogers ’27 says he had to go outside his comfort zone for the portrayal of Conrad Birdie. “I have never played a role quite like Conrad. He’s supposed to be the biggest rockstar of his time. He is masculine, carefree, and quite the heartthrob. It definitely wasn’t easy to step outside my comfort zone and play a character so different from me. With that being said, this is also what makes it so fun to play Conrad Birdie. When I’m on stage, playing Conrad, I forget about everything that’s troubling me. I can fully just have a blast performing my big, fun songs.” He added, Conrad has many big numbers in Bye Bye Birdie that are not only fun, but tiring and challenging. After my time playing Conrad Birdie, my dancing and singing skills have greatly improved.”
Mick Waldman ’28 played songwriter Albert Peterson, a role performed by Dick Van Dyke in the 1963 film. “I have grown a lot as an actor,” Waldman said, “because the last role I had in the musical was a comedic guy. Now, I have a character with a lot of different emotions to figure out.” While he liked the lyrics to “Rosie” and “Put on a Happy Face,” the “Telephone Hour” was his favorite song.
Rose Alvarez is Albert’s long-suffering fiancée of six years. “I have without a doubt grown as an actor and singer while playing this role,” Tea Sabbagh said. “My character, Rosie, does very difficult dancing all in one very small piece of the stage,” explained Sabbagh. “It is difficult to stay in that space while also concentrating on dancing my best. Playing Rosie has helped me grow as a singer as I am able to challenge myself to sing my best with the difficult and complex songs that she has to sing.”
“Opening night felt like it would never come,” said Soleil Pena ’27, who played Kim MacAfee, “but when it did, it was nerve-racking and emotional. It was really sad that the process would end, but we still had a show to do.”
“The most challenging thing was changing the time period,” Pena said. “I played a character that is very similar to me, but her mannerisms are very different because she lives in the ’50s. This role prepared me for other roles because it showed me that I had the potential to do well in a solo song and in a lead role.”
Brianna Sylvain ’27 said about playing Mrs. MacAfee, “Something really fun about my role is that I am playing the parent. I’ve really been able to step into the shoes of my parents and their parents, which has been really amusing.” She added, “I have definitely grown as an actor in this role. My character has allowed me to experiment with the time period and the social dynamics of the time.”
“The music from this time period has been really refreshing,” Sylvain said. “The beats, rhythms, and lyrics of the songs differ so much from the music now. The music has allowed me and the cast to really feel the energy of the ’50s.”
Kiera Kinnane ’27 found being part of the ensemble to be both challenging and fun as she had to learn all the dances. “It was fun because you get to move around and be energetic, and I particularly enjoy dance,” Kinnane said, “but it has proven a bit tricky to remember all of the moves.” Ms. Hacker posted the videos of the dances so the students can review them at home. “After being in A Christmas Carol, when I was in seventh grade, I took a break from acting so Bye Bye Birdie has helped me get back into it,” Kinnane added. “The rest of the cast is very kind, we’ve had plenty of laughs, and I have made some very good friends, and reconnected with some old ones from being in this show. I hope to make more friends if I choose to continue acting in the Upper School.”
Lila Dubin ’28 also enjoyed being part of the ensemble. “The people are amazing and I have so much fun doing this,” she said. “I have grown a lot as a singer from this show especially because now I have a solo. One of my favorite memories from this show is when we did the choreography for ‘Telephone Hour’ or ‘One Boy.’”
For Kitty Unis ’29, the most challenging part of being in the ensemble was being on the sidelines. “But I think it is also one of the more rewarding things, too, because you help everyone else shine,” Unis said, adding, “I think I have grown as a dancer because before I joined Bye Bye Birdie, I could barely do the Cotton Eye Joe [a line dance] and now I can sort of do a full dance routine.”