The main guiding hand of this year’s Oak Bay High musical theatre production of Bye Bye Birdie won’t even be there when the student actors hit the first note.
Alison Roberts, a 2010 grad, spent a year after graduation at Canadian College of Performing Arts then the following four traveling across Canada and back working theatres in Vancouver, Toronto and Winnipeg.
She came back to visit between contracts in September, kicking off a steamroll affect.
“I offered to help out with auditions … It became my project. I’ve kind of taken over the whole thing.”
With the majority of her experience on stage, choreography this large-scale was new and directing was previously not on the radar.
“It’s been surprisingly a really good experience. It’s given me more confidence in my work. I would love to start doing more choreography and directing,” Roberts said.
Similarly, the student actor portraying Kim enjoys her first musical theatre appearance. Roberts plucked choir member Sarah Bjelde, despite her inexperience, to play the Kim MacAfee, the swooning teen selected for a kiss from Conrad Birdie’s fan club.
“I’ve done some choir performances before but not on this level,” Bjelde said. “I’ve gained a lot of confidence. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I want to do it again.”
Among her favoured songs in the show is a duet with another lead, “Singing with Véronique – she’s so good it’s fun sharing the stage with her.”
Oak Bay audiences will remember Véronique Beaudet, who portrays Albert’s secretary and sweetheart, Rosie Alvarez, as Belle in the final production last year in Oak Bay High’s old theatre; Bye Bye Birdie is the first musical theatre to take the stage in the new Dave Dunnet Community Theatre.
“We have a really good group of students,” Roberts said. Despite scheduling challenges, between sports and choir and music “it’s been a good solid commitment all around.”
They’re strong on stage and off, with a production crew of 80 students altogether – 40 in the cast.
“There are lots of big chorus numbers, everyone gets a chance to see their kids perform,” Roberts said.
The lively and bright musical features Elvis-inspired rock star Conrad Birdie. He gets drafted by the army and in a publicity stunt offers one last kiss to lucky winner, the sweet teen Kim MacAfee.
“It’s a bit of a throwback to the 1960s. It’s a lighthearted easily accessible show,” said Jonah van Driesum, who plays agent and songwriter Albert Peterson.
“The audience should anticipate a lot of fun. It’s a general lighthearted show and people should be prepared to laugh and have a good time.”
Roberts felt confident handing over the reins a week before opening night as she hit the road again. A four-month contract will see her first at Banff Centre for professional training, then off to Edmonton with Citadel to appear in West Side Story (for the fifth time).
“I’m pretty happy with how it turned out,” said Roberts. “I had to remind myself it all comes together.”
Bye Bye Birdie opens Feb. 19 in the Oak Bay High community theatre at the corner of Cadboro Bay and Cranmore roads.
Shows run Feb. 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27 at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee on Feb 21 at 2 p.m.
Tickets $12 adults, $10 seniors and students available at the Shieling Gifts, Ivy’s Books and the school office.
Tickets may be available at the door. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for special ticket requests.