I will be the first of confess I was somewhat of a community theatre groupie when I was a kid. During the summers, the Youth Theatre of Hardin County staged a different musical production with a cast ranging from kids to high school seniors. Looking back, a big regret of mine is the fact I consistently chose little league baseball over participating in Youth Theatre.
As a matter of fact, my acting debut in elementary school became my final stage call at the tender age of eight in which I was selected to portray the role of Frederick in our school production of Hansel and Gretel. After spending what seemed like days, our maybe it was hours, perfecting my single line I took to the stage for opening night, which ironically was also closing night. I stood proud and poised in the bright stage lights with my designer german costume, a Jane Meyer original (my mom), and heartily boasted in the heaviest thesbian tone which could be conjured up by a third grader “Sausages? Mmmm, I can almost taste them now“. Once the stagehands cleared the shower of roses from the stage to preserve the safety of the other actors and the seemingly endless standing ovations subsided, I relinquished the stage to the principal actors and the production was able to proceed.
Despite this pint-size artistic misdirection of my youth, my sister was a devoted cast member for five summers which meant I attended nearly every show and matinee as they acted and sang their way through the summer season. One of the perks was also tagging along as the little brother to the cast after-parties which typically consisted of a late night second dinner consisting of the epic “J-boy” burger at Jerry’s Restaurant. At the end of the summer season, I also enjoyed the big wrap party with a DJ playing new releases from bands ranging from The Human League to Men at Work.
In my sister’s final season I finally committed to working on the backstage crew for their production of Guys and Dolls but that is about as close as I came to the actor’s stage. Nonetheless, given my deep love for the arts as well as my own music/film pursuits, I do enjoy live stage productions whenever the opportunity arises.
Friday night was one such opportunity as not only did we finally attend opening night of the Magical Starlight Theatre’s production of Bye Bye Birdie, but we also decided to take along our six year-old for his first big musical stage production.
It was only fitting that we would see Bye Bye Birdie as the summer the Youth Theatre of Hardin County performed Bye Bye Birdie back in 1980-something, both my brother and sister were part of the cast.
With much shame it is important that I fully disclose the embarassing fact that this was our first Magical Starlight Theatre production after procrastinating and talking about becoming regular patrons for years.
We arrived late at just around the time the show was to begin. We took our seats in the Naperville Central Auditorium which was about three-fourths full. My six year-old was buzzing with anticipation. The lights went down, a screen illuminated on stage with some b-roll Conrad Birdie footage as well as other members of the cast. Suddenly, a cascading wave of screeching screaming girls came running down both sides of the aisle as if Sanjaya himself had taken the stage. We then heard our first chorus of the repetitively familiar anthem…”We love you Conrad, oh yes we do…. we love you Conrad and we’ll be true….”.
From there, the production came to life and I must say that we truly enjoyed the wide age-range of the cast not to speak of the many bright spots of local talent we witnessed. The whole cast did a wonderful job and I couldn’t help but be thrilled for the younger cast members cutting their teeth on the stage and acting their hearts out. The orchestra down in the pit were also great in terms of giving everyone that familiar flavor of the Broadway stage. (to view the entire cast list, click here http://www.magicalstarlight.com/birdiecast.php).
Being a backstage crew veteran of one season with Youth Theatre and a fond lover of set design, I was extremely impressed with the complexity and quality of sets which were utilized. It really makes a difference in community theatre. If you have been putting off experiencing a Magical Starlight Theatre production, I encourage you make plans.
The community arts are truly a magical treasure for everyone involved and I look forward to many productions in the future. Best of all, I’m happy to report that I think my six year-old may have gotten the acting bug as result of this performance.
To learn more about the Magical Starlight Theatre, visit www.magicalstarlight.com SM