CVHS revives 1950s with ‘Bye Bye Birdie’

By: Jeremy Selweski | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published November 12, 2014

 Chippewa Valley High School senior Rachel Dion, as Rose Alvarez, sings a song from “Bye Bye Birdie” during a recent rehearsal. The school will host four performances of the classic Broadway musical from Nov. 20-22.

Chippewa Valley High School senior Rachel Dion, as Rose Alvarez, sings a song from “Bye Bye Birdie” during a recent rehearsal. The school will host four performances of the classic Broadway musical from Nov. 20-22.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — When students from Chippewa Valley High School take the stage next week with their production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” they will have to meet the exacting standards of a local veteran of theatre, radio and film.

For the second straight year, CVHS’ annual musical will be directed by Marty Bufalini, an actor, director and radio personality with decades of experience under the bright lights. Since the start of the school year, Bufalini has been leading this group of talented young actors through lengthy after-school rehearsals of the classic Broadway musical.

“I always tell the kids, ‘We don’t do high school,’” he said. “We expect real professionalism out of them. So this show is an opportunity for people to see theatre that — if I have my way — will be well above the typical high school level, and even above the typical community theatre level.”

Under the leadership of Bufalini, choreographer Don Bischoff and CVHS choir director James Pecar, CVHS’ drama department will present four performances of ‘Bye Bye Birdie” at the school’s 575-seat Henrichsen Auditorium from Nov. 20-22. Each date will feature a 7 p.m. evening show, and there will also be a 1 p.m. matinee show on Nov. 22. All tickets are $10 apiece.

Set in New York City and the fictional town of Sweet Apple, Ohio, in 1958, the Tony Award-winning “Bye Bye Birdie” is a musical satire of American society during a time when rock ’n’ roll was becoming a cultural force and a youth movement was gripping the nation. The story was inspired by the real-life phenomenon of Elvis Presley and his draft notice into the U.S. Army around that time. It focuses on rock star Conrad Birdie and the events surrounding his conscription, which include a farewell party on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in which he will kiss one lucky fan before he leaves.

Pecar indicated that the choice of “Bye Bye Birdie” for this year’s show was the result of a desire to stage a classic musical that would showcase the many “powerful voices” in his choirs. Between the cast, crew and orchestra, the production will include about 120 CVHS students, as well as a handful of kids from Erie Elementary School.

The cast includes junior William Bailey as Conrad Birdie, junior Christian Boni as Albert Peterson, senior Rachel Dion as Rose Alvarez, senior Stephanie Gettings as Kim MacAfee, freshman Phillip Moore as Harry MacAfee, senior Faith Stewart as Doris MacAfee, Erie fifth-grader Tyler Hursh as Randolph MacAfee, senior Diana Thaqi as Mae Peterson, freshman Andrew Dubon as Hugo Peabody and senior Chloe Wojcik as Ursula Merkle.

“We always take the approach that you should never try to pre-cast anything,” Bufalini explained. “If someone is the best person for the part, then they’ve got the part, no matter if they’re a freshman or a senior. You never know who’s going to come in and surprise you.”

Being involved with a CVHS musical is always a huge commitment, especially for the actors in the lead roles, but these students know exactly what they’re signing up for. Even though they’ve had to make some major sacrifices to bring “Bye Bye Birdie” to life — “Every day, I walk to school in the dark, and I walk home in the dark,” Moore pointed out — they wouldn’t have it any other way.

As Dion put it, “It’s my favorite part of school. Every day in class, I’m just counting down the hours until rehearsal starts. Coming here and being surrounded by such positivity is so much fun. You learn a lot about yourself and develop so much self-confidence.”

For Stewart, immersing herself so deeply in the CVHS theatre program over the last four years has yielded some great rewards. It has allowed her to make many lasting friendships and has given her a creative outlet to deal with any personal issues.

“In a musical, you build all these great relationships with people,” she said, “and sometimes those relationships on stage carry over when you’re off stage. But at the same time, our director always tells us to ‘leave it at the door.’ When you get on stage, you just push your own life aside for a while. It’s a great escape, a way to just forget about everything and become another person.”

Pecar is hopeful that “Bye Bye Birdie” will generate a strong turnout from the community, just as last year’s CVHS musical, “Hairspray,” did. He pointed out that although the school gets a great deal of support from parent volunteers, putting on a musical — which includes everything from acquiring the rights, script and music for the show, to building sets and creating costumes, to hiring extra musicians and renting the auditorium — typically costs tens of thousands of dollars. Ticket sales from these shows are simply meant to help recoup the expenses.

Bufalini and Pecar are confident that when the curtain opens on Nov. 20, all those who come out to CVHS will be in for a treat. After hundreds of hours of rigorous preparation, they know that their students will be champing at the bit to perform “Bye Bye Birdie” in front of a real live audience.

“I’m just really proud of these kids and how hard they work every day,” Bufalini said. “We have so much great talent all around, but they also know how to push themselves.”

Pecar agreed, adding, “We always tell our kids to ‘make it special’ when they get on that stage. Do your best to make it memorable for the audience, because this might be the only time they ever see you perform. Leave them with a lasting impression.”

The cast of “Bye Bye Birdie” seems to be taking this advice to heart. As the big day inches ever closer, they spoke of answering Bufalini’s challenge to raise their game and bring these performances to a level that goes beyond high school.

“It feels so unreal, but I’m ready to see all of our hard work pay off,” Dion said. “I just can’t wait for people to see this show. We’re bouncing off the walls, ready to show them what we’ve got.”

Tickets for Chippewa Valley High School’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie” are available online at http://cvchoirs.seatyourself.biz. A limited number of tickets can also be purchased at the ticket window one hour prior to each performance. For more information, call (586) 723-2300.

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