There is more depth to “Bye Bye Birdie” than simply looking at it as a musical comedy to open the 2013-14 season at NOVA Center for the Performing Arts.
production, which opened Thursday and runs through Aug. 25,
features rising actors in the Venture Youth Conservatory and
some of the best performers from Billings high schools.
Director Myra Nurre said she chose the musical because it
represents embracing change and that’s what the last year at
Venture Theatre, now NOVA Center for the Performing Arts, has
But beyond the theater changing leadership
and names, the young cast in “Bye Bye Birdie” is transitioning
from middle school to high school and from high school to
college. When the musical opened on Broadway in 1960, it was
just the beginning of the social revolution. The story was
inspired by Elvis Presley being drafted into the U.S. Army in
1957. The title character, Conrad Birdie, is an idolized rock
singer whose swiveling hips and crooning love songs make the
teenage girls faint and their boyfriends and parents to rage
against the music.
If you’ve never seen some of these
young actors on stage before, you are in for a pleasant
surprise. Nurre went from school to school in Billings
auditioning the finest vocalists for the leading roles. She
discovered singers, a few experienced actors, and sharp
teenagers ready for a challenge. In all, a cast of 35 performers
made the show. Nurre stood behind her middle school kids, some
of whom she taught in an improv class and others she has worked
with for years. She encouraged them to work hard to hold their
own with the high school cast members. They rose to her
“It’s a personal journey for these kids,”
Nurre said. “Some of these kids are graduating and wondering
where they fit in — the adult world or the youth community. Some
of them are middle school kids who are trying to be taken
Tanner Bolin, Geneva Copeland and Kean Haunt
are all veteran improvisational actors who performed as part of
the Funky Bunch for years. Copeland, who portrays 15-year Kim
MacAfee, played Beauty in the Billings Studio Theatre production
of “Beauty and the Beast.” Kim is chosen as the girl who gets to
appear on the “Ed Sullivan Show” with Conrad Birdie so he can
sing his farewell song, “One Last Kiss,” and then plant one on
Bolin and Haunt provide the humor with Bolin’s
outrageous facial expressions as Kim’s square dad and Haunt’s
wide-eyed innocence as the duped boyfriend who has to compete
with Conrad Birdie for his girl’s affections. Grace Iverson
plays Kim’s mom.
Venture newcomers Taylor Barkac, Colbey
Robinson, and Michelle Mullowney play the three other leads.
Barkac, a senior at Skyview High, blew Nurre away at auditions
when he showed up with his guitar and an Elvis song. He got the
“It was obvious we had to turn him into
Elvis, so I put him in a dance room and had him practice moving
hips around until that felt comfortable,” Nurre said.
Robinson, a Central High graduate, plays Albert, Birdie’s
conniving manager, and Mullowney, of West High, plays Albert’s
girlfriend and secretary Rose. Mullowney performed in West
High’s recent musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.”
one of my favorite characters in all of theater,’ Nurre said.
“It’s been so much fun to watch Michelle become Rose.”
“Birdie” is a slice of life in the 1960s when teenagers chatted
with their pals on oversized turquoise phones and girls got
pinned by their steadies. It’s refreshing to see teenagers
starring in a production that is primarily about teenagers.
The 1963 film featured Ann-Margret as Kim. Margret went on
to date Elvis Presley after the film and performed with Elvis in
“Viva Las Vegas.”
Nurre kept the dance steps simple and
the music acoustic to keep the focus on the characters and their
“It was all about the story,” Nurre said.
“That was my theme about choices — everything is in service to