By Connie Denney
Deborah Sue (at least that’s the name of the character she was about to portray) led us to our seats for Jonesborough Repertory Theatre’s production of Bye Bye Birdie recently. The bright green color of her dress and matching big bow in her hair was a real clue to the late 50s setting for the play. Those times rocked and rolled us through experiences that were not only life-changing for individuals, but history-making for the universe.
We do not, of course, get to choose the times into which we are born. For those who did not see the era firsthand, the music certainly lives on for our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews to enjoy. It could make their view of the generation in the rearview mirror a bit more meaningful.
Speaking of generations, the person to my left as we sat in the full-house audience was among those who helped see me through the 60s. My Mom. I think she likes plays as much as I do, whether performed by casts made up of amateurs, professionals or folks somewhere in-between.
Another was the late “Mr. Humpston,” who lived very near the location now housing the theatre. He was a musician himself, as well our teacher, who directed our high school performance of the play some years back. I should note here that I am living proof that one does not have to be musical to be in one. No false modesty here. But, being in a chorus with a lot of moving parts does allow for options. Some life lessons teach us not to fear stepping out and stepping up. Others, such as being a non-musical person in a chorus, teach the value of not drawing attention to oneself. Doing the play was one of the fun times that help make high school a well-rounded experience.
Just in case you missed the Broadway show, the movie, JRT’s production AND the high school version including me in the chorus, “Birdie” is Conrad Birdie, a thinly-veiled Elvis-type character who has received his Army draft notice. He has a large fan base and a song-writing manager trying to take advantage of a promotional opportunity.
Birdie travels to Sweet Apple, Ohio, to deliver a symbolic “One Last Kiss.” The recipient would be Kim MacAfee, whose boyfriend is not so sure about this idea. The notion that this would be on The Ed Sullivan Show adds a whole new dimension and zaniness galore!
Since my last time with you in this space, I not only got reacquainted with Bye Bye Birdie, the play, I also went to a high school graduation class reunion. My childhood friend who played Birdie in our high school play had traveled from his home in Atlanta. When he referred to “that gold suit” he had to wear, I was able to tell him that the Jonesborough reincarnation did, too. Birdie lives on!
As for the class reunion, we were grateful for name tags and “Bye Byes” were bittersweet.