LIVINGSTON, NJ - Heritage Middle School presented their spring musical, “Bye Bye Birdie” on April 10, 11, and 12 to audiences filled with parents, students, and fans of the show of all ages. The show was directed and choreographed by eighth grade teacher Chris Russoniello, musically directed by Joseph Leskey, and stage managed by Michael Apostalou.
“’Bye Bye Birdie’ is one of the most captivating musical shows of our time,” said Russoniello. “It tells the story of a rock and roll singer who is about to be inducted into the army. The singer, Conrad Birdie, an Elvis Presley type, wears gaudy gold costumes and speaks in a rugged voice. Albert Peterson, his agent, is a pleasant mild-mannered young man. Albert’s faithful secretary Rose Alvarez keeps him and Birdie moving forward in the world.”
The lights went down at about 7:35 p.m., whereupon Russoniello, the director, welcomed the audience to the production that the seventh and eight graders had spent months perfecting. The show opened on record producer and agent Albert Peterson (Josh Meyers) lamenting the loss of his biggest client, Conrad Birdie (Michael Koerwer), to military service. His dutiful and faithful secretary Rose Alvarez (Cassie Hui) was aggravated that Albert never followed his original career path to become an ‘English Teacher’ and moaned that she had wasted her life pining for him.
Next, Meyers’ and Hui’s characters hatched a plan for one last publicity stunt before Birdie was to be shipped off—they would pick a Birdie fan, at random, for Birdie to give a kiss goodbye to before leaving. The lucky fan selected was Kim MacAfee (Alex Miller) from Sweet Apple, OH, who was the head of the Conrad Birdie fan club.
MacAfee struggled with her devotion to the fan club as she was newly going steady with Hugo Peabody (Ryan Grossbard), and lamented about her troubles to her friend Ursula (Sarah Giulanti). However, once MacAfee met Birdie, her doubts disappeared and the entire town became engulfed by ‘Birdie Fever.’
While tensions brewed between Birdie and his fans, MacAfee’s family dealt with the rockstar at home. MacAfee’s mother and father (Ryan Gavi and Julia Gaudioso) swooned and sulked over Birdie, respectively, for the 50s are known for being a birthplace of teenage rebellion, which was shown by the two, along with other parents, who were often lamenting the actions of ‘kids’ today.
Alvarez’s and Peterson’s relationship faced obstacles throughout the show, with Peterson’s mother Mae (Ally Beetle) strongly disapproving of Alvarez’s and Peterson’s handling of the record company. The musical followed the town’s growing obsession with Birdie and the chaos that followed Peterson and Alvarez, right up to Birdie’s farewell performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
"The chorus is great this year, the energy is infectious, and the performance was adorable," gushed audience member Hillary Borker. “All voices could be heard in this production—a large feat for any cast.”
"The energy is off the roof,” said a high-schooler at intermission. “The singing is fabulous, the dancing is amazing, the acting is superb, and I am pleasantly surprised.”
The middle school cast succeeded in bringing “Bye Bye Birdie,” a timeless classic to life.
- Featured performers included: Josh Meyers as Albert; Cassie Hui as Rose; Michael Koerwer as Birdie; Alex Miller as Kim MacAfee; Ryan Gavi and Julia Gaudioso as the Macafees; Ally Beetle as Albert’s overbearing mom Mae; Sarah Giulianti as Ursula; Justin Hoffmann as Randolph MacAfee; Ryan Grossbard as Hugo Peabody; and Becca Fernandes as Gloria.
- The teen chorus included: Joanna Primamore as Alice; Jillian Skara as Deborah Sue; Erin Eagen as Helen; Ilana Chalom as Margie Ann; Lauren Hirschmann as Nancy; Carolina Lima as Penelope Ann; Sydney Muench as Susie; Matthew Gershman as Harvey Johnson; Mark Lanigan; Marli Hobicorn; Madeleine Hackett; Gabby DeFilippo; Sylvia Ferreira; Nia Antoine; and Noreen Abedrabbo.
- Parents included: Cheyenne DeRosa as Mrs. Merkle; Anushka Agarwal as Maude; Kamal Paspuleti as Mayor; Caitlin Danton and Mikayla Grubb.
Jess Silverman is a senior at Livingston High School participating in a journalism program with TAPinto.net.