Generation after Generation, Teens Have All the Fun
Bye Bye Birdie makes 92 for Children’s Theatre of Annapolis
Girls swoon as Conrad Birdie, played by Ned Kimble, sings his signature song You've Got to be Sincere.
previewed by Dotty Holcomb Doherty
Ever since teens first slicked back their hair, drove shark-finned cars and had all the fun, Annapolis actors have gotten their start on the brightly lit stage of the Belvedere Elementary School cafeteria.
The latest generation of Children’s Theatre of Annapolis is returning to its roots by reviving the 1960s’ musical Bye Bye Birdie as its 92nd and nearly its last show before taking to its own stage.
Daring to Try
School was just starting when seven dozen hopeful teenagers auditioned to be part of the fun. Returning actors greeted each other like a reunion of cousins, pulling newcomers into the throng.
Confidence surrounded some teens as they approached the elementary school stage, but nerves overcame others. One planned to sing a cappella, but could not find her voice. Director Christy Stouffer suggested the stalled singer imagine herself in her bedroom. Nothing. Stouffer then asked her to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ with Patty Durst, the piano accompanist. Her voice returned.
“This amazingly professional company puts on terrific shows and feels like family,” said Joshua Konick, a senior at Broadneck High School returning to Children’s Theatre of Annapolis for his sixth year. “There’s ongoing change here. New people come in, and others graduate.”
In Bye Bye Birdie audtions, Konick won the part of mama’s boy Albert, whose career as a songwriter is jeopardized when heartthrob singer Conrad Birdie is drafted into military service.
Albert may be saved by the scheming Rosie, his secretary and fiancée. Baltimore School for the Performing Arts’ senior Loghan Bazan and Broadneck junior Lauren Behringer each won a share of that, devising a contest for a kiss, to be claimed after Birdie sings Albert’s new song, ‘One Last Kiss,’ on national television.
Brittany Kemmer, a junior at Severna Park High School and a newcomer to the area, auditioned with the ease of a pro, earning the lead role of Kim, the lucky winner who must balance the anticipated thrill of a teen idol’s kiss with the jealousy of new boyfriend Hugo, played by Broadneck sophomore Adam Timko.
Practicing Their Paces
Konick, Bazan, Behringer, Kemmer, Timko and 34 other teens graduated from auditions to rehearsals.
“What we did for the audition was simple,” said chorus singer Andrew Lamb, a junior at Severna Park High School. “Now we are doing backflips over each other!”
Seated at the piano, music director Ken Kimble introduced the song, ‘Normal American Boy,’ with an admonition.
“Sing on the beat the first time only,” Kimble instructed, “and then it is syncopated.”
Sitting up even straighter, singers punched out the melody. Intense looks darted between chorus singers as they synchronized, pulling volume from low in their abdomens. Strong harmonized endings finished each song.
Choreographer Jason Kimmel stepped in to teach the singers to move. “You girls at the beginning, you have to be so high peaked on sugar,” he directed.
Encouraging even more animation, he twisted his body and squealed, “Oh! I gotta pee.”
Wild giggles met his instructions.
Raising a Theater
In ‘The Telephone Hour,’ teenage girls gossip about Kim’s recent pinning by Hugo:“What’s the story, morning glory?” “What's the word, hummingbird?” “Tell me quick about Hugo and Kim!”
Children’s Theatre of Annapolis started small, in the living room of June Young Davis, one of a group of theater-minded friends. For years, Davis wrote and produced every show because the shoestring company couldn’t afford to pay royalties for professional plays.
Over 47 years, thousands of children have dared to try and have practiced their paces in the company’s two annual shows and workshops. In addition to acting, kids tackle auditioning, costuming, lighting and props. Then they stage their own show.
Parents help out producing, directing, fundraising, costuming, building sets, managing props, selling tickets and running publicity. Many outlast their children in the company.
Vice president Bill Smith’s daughter graduated eight years ago, yet he still plans layouts and designs sets. Bob Rude, the longest serving board member and current membership specialist, joined in 1978.
Experienced older teens often work alongside their parents. High school seniors, Konick, Christopher Engler and Johnathon Grubbkruger have acted for years with the company. For last spring’s show, Honk!, they moved up to be assistant directors.
“We have a mix of volunteers,” says Martha Gardner, the president of Children’s Theatre of Annapolis. “Each one adds a new perspective.”
The newest perspective is added by Kathy Swekel, the company’s first executive director, at work since November. A local youth director, Swekel has been a producer in premiere venues, including the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall.
Next fall, Swekel will lead the company into a new 256-seat theater under construction at Bay Head Park, on a former Nike missile base.
“Building their own facility is a big deal for a small non-profit, especially a youth-based program,” she said.
Bye Bye Birdie
Ned Kimble, a senior at Annapolis High School, steps into the past as teen idol Conrad Birdie. His rich voice and dreaded departure by draft have the nation’s girls in an uproar. Dancers and chorus scream their adoration, swooning as teens did, once upon a time.
Children’s Theatre of Annapolis actors have graduated to theater conservatories and colleges, and a few to Broadway.
Whatever their fame or fate or era, however they wore their hair, along the way they were teens, having all the fun.
Join the Show
Bye Bye Byrdie belongs to the older kids, 12 to 18. Come spring, younger students ages eight to 14 get their turn with Aladdin, Jr. Trying to be one of that cast will be Zach Konick, an eighth grader at Severn River Middle School.
“I feel comfortable with this company,” Konick says. “No one has ever been mean to me.”
See the Show
Bye Bye Birdie plays Jan. 5-7 & 12-14 at 7:30pm Fri; 2pm & 7:30pm Sat; 2pm Sun. at Pascal Center for the Performing Arts, Anne Arundel Community College $12 w/discounts: 410-757-2281; www.childrenstheatreofannapolis.org/shows.
Workshop for ages 8-15: Everything’s Groovy with Tiffany Shannon. 6-8:30pm Jan. 29-April 23. $290: www.childrenstheatreofannapolis.org/workshops.
Ages 8-14 audition for the Spring Show, Aladdin, Jr., Sat. Jan. 6, 9:30am3pm; Mon. Jan. 8, 6-9pm at Belvedere Elementary School, Broadwater Rd. Arnold. Email: info@childrenstheatreofannapolis.
Dotty Holcomb Doherty of Annapolis is a regular contributor to Bay Weekly. Her last story was The Talent Machine Company’s Gift to Children (Vol. xiv, No. 49).