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Lake City Playhouse adds comic inspiration to ‘Bye Bye Birdie’

UPDATED: Thu., May 10, 2018, 2:12 p.m.

Hannah Melton and Matt Day appear in the classic musical “Bye Bye Birdie” at Lake City Playhouse. (Lake City Playhouse.)
Hannah Melton and Matt Day appear in the classic musical “Bye Bye Birdie” at Lake City Playhouse. (Lake City Playhouse.)

In “Bye Bye Birdie,” it’s 1958 and rock ’n’ roll heartthrob Conrad Birdie (Easton Townsend) has been drafted into the Army.

But before he’s sent overseas, Rose Alvarez (Hannah Melton), the secretary of Birdie’s songwriter Albert Peterson (Matt Day), persuades Peterson to write a new song for Birdie to perform.

According to Alvarez’s plan, Birdie will perform the song, “One Last Kiss,” and give a randomly selected member of his fan club a kiss on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

After 15-year-old Kim MacAfee (Olivia McNeice) is announced as the winner, Birdie, Peterson and Alvarez visit her hometown of Sweet Apple, Ohio, turning the town, and MacAfee’s relationship with boyfriend Hugo Peabody (Caid Wood) upside down.

The musical, which features a book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse, opened on Broadway, with Dick Van Dyke as Peterson and Chita Rivera as Alvarez, in 1960 and on the West End the following year.

Since then, “Bye Bye Birdie” has toured the country and seen a short-lived Broadway sequel and a 2009 Broadway revival.

Lake City Playhouse board director Brooke Wood knew “Bye Bye Birdie” would be a popular show, one that was fun, wholesome and would represent community theater well.

But in a twist on the classic, Wood, who is directing the musical, decided to take inspiration from “Archie Comics.”

“Those who love it will continue to come see it, so I wanted to give them a new take on the show,” she said. “I felt like ‘Archie Comics’ with the 1950s still being a big presence was a great way to do that.”

The Lake City Playhouse production of “Bye Bye Birdie” opens Friday and runs through May 27.

Wood said the comic book inspiration is reflected in just about every aspect of the production.

Black fabric has been sewn around the seams and hems of the actors’ costumes to make them look like sketches, and comic book artist Elodie Chen, who recently appeared in Lake City’s production of “Quilters,” is painting the set.

Chen has also incorporated snippets of rehearsal and cast pictures into comic book art that will be on display in the Lake City Playhouse lobby.

“Some of the script is very dated, so I felt like taking it into a comic made some of that a little more forgivable,” Wood said. “It made it feel like ‘They’re totally tongue in cheek about this.’ ”

“Bye Bye Birdie” features a cast of 41 actors, ages 9 to 80.

Working with a large cast is nothing new to Wood, who has directed with Christian Youth Theater and co-directs the theater department at the Sorensen Magnet School of the Arts and Humanities.

But fitting 41 people on Lake City’s small stage presented a challenge, one that required incorporating lots of levels and elements that pop out into the set for actors to stand on.

“Trigger Weddle’s doing a great job choreographing and making sure that everyone has a moment and then our music director (Renei Yarrow) worked early on with them,” Wood said of how the team has gotten creative to fit the cast onstage.

The cast itself, Wood said, has also been helpful getting “Bye Bye Birdie” up and running, doing everything from painting and sewing to pressure washing the building.

“It’s been one of those where you’re like ‘This is really what community theater is about’…” Wood said. “You name it, they have stepped up, and it shows in the production. They are very proud of what they’re doing, and it’s a very great production, and I’m very proud of them and everything they’ve done to help Lake City Playhouse continue.”