By Rachel Booth, North Thurston High School Intern to ThurstonTalk
“I look sexy!” Victor Worrell jokes of his flamboyant costume. Tonight he dons a golden jacket paired with a purple and pink tie, ready for the first appearance of his titular character, Conrad Birdie. It is opening night for the annual North Thurston High School fall musical and the green room is buzzing.
“Ten minutes ‘til showtime,” shouts Corynn Carignan, the NTHS senior stage manager. She is stressed to the max yet excited to present the production she has been absorbed in for months.
“Bye Bye Birdie,” a story by Michael Stewart, follows the love and woes of several overlapping relationships. Set in the 1950s and brimming with musicality, “Birdie” is a charming classic. The main conflict is centered on the Elvis-style mess of a pop star, Conrad Birdie (Worrell), who has been drafted into the Army (to the distress of his adoring fan club). His manager, Albert Peterson (Logan Anderton), is persuaded by the lovely Rose Alvarez (Naomi Andrews) to hold a contest to receive the final kiss from Conrad before his departure.
Albert and Rose struggle as he refuses to stand up to his overprotective and melodramatic mother, Mae (Amber Granger) in order to pursue his true interest in English. Meanwhile, Kim MacAfee (Bailey Boeholt) is chosen to kiss Conrad, inciting jealousy in her new beau, Hugo (Dylan Eckstein). Tired of dealing with men and their pride, Rose and Kim team up to get back at them. A disaster ensues!
Kathrine Deneen, NTHS English teacher and head of the drama department, calls the whole cast into the green room behind the stage. Everyone is lying on the floor and Deneen turns the lights off. This is the warm up procedure, unique to her. Every actor tenses and releases their muscles at her command, practices facial expressions, and acts each other’s lines out. They shake their arms and legs, singing and shouting and nervous.
Many cast member are upperclassmen who have been acting their entire high school career. Others are new to the scene. Grabbing the last of the Red Vines from the prop table, the stage crew, headed by Eric Suarez, run out to the wings to prep the stage. After a quick, encouraging pep talk, Deneen heads out to the audience and everyone takes their place. Steven Jordan, at the back of the James Koval Center for the Performing Arts at the sound board, and Lucie Doran runs lighting from the technical booth above. People are flooding into the theater and student ushers direct audience members to their seats.
Back in the dressing room, actors run to and fro, checking costumes and fixing their hair. The makeup counter is lit up and the mirror dances with reflections of poodle skirts, hair bows, and classy suits. Juli Mulholland, who has sewn the majority of these costumes, makes final fixes and pins things in place before actors take the stage. Even from the back room, the crew can hear the opening music start.
The live orchestra is a special trademark of the fall musical. Eighteen musicians fill the small pit below the stage. Band and orchestra volunteers have been rehearsing for weeks. Orchestra teacher Grant Sears directs the group in accompanying each song in the musical and backing up the actors’ vocals. Horns, strings, percussion, and a piano are all tightly squeezed in and play in perfect harmony.
“This is chaos – the most fun I’ve had on a Friday night,” says makeup artist Kimmie Palecki. She sits on a stool in the dressing room, helping actors change outfits and makeup for different characters and scenes. Many costume changes take place quickly, and the rooms behind the stage are extremely hot. The air is scented with sweat and hairspray, but everyone is grinning and thrilled to be performing.
From the wings, the onstage action is easily seen. Lights shine on the immense wooden house, dining table, and other set pieces, quickly moved on and off by the stage crew between scenes. Actors wait in the wings to make their entrances and whisper quietly about the progress, intermittently shushed by stage manager Corynn. Communicating via headset with lights, sound, and curtains, Corynn pulls faces and dances offstage, encouraging actors to maintain smiles and energy. Giggling at their stage manager, the chorus members swing to the music and run offstage.
The complex 50s-era dancing is choreographed and taught by literature teacher Amy Solomon-Minarchi. Caitlin Van Zee (choir instructor) and Solomon-Minarchi have been at after-school rehearsals for weeks training students. Solomon-Minarchi has also donated considerable time behind the scenes with painters and set designers. “The Shop,” as it is lovingly known, is a large room behind the stage filled with wood, cardboard, paints, tools, and more. So much work, time, and money have been put into the production, and this is the moment of truth.
“It was absolutely fabulous,” says Juli Chavez, a NTHS parent who attended the show. “The singing was so impressive and Harry MacAfee (Jeff Hines-Morhmon) was hysterical!” Parents and actors crowd the lobby. Many hold flowers from family and friends and praise is high for the opening performance. With the exception of a broken microphone headpiece that was quickly rewired by the center’s technical director, Jeff Storvick, things ran exceptionally well.
“Everything just felt….right,” says freshman actor Thor Worrell. After meeting with the audience, the cast and crew return backstage to change and then storm the nearby Dairy Queen to celebrate opening night. The evening was a box office success, bringing in hundreds of dollars for the drama club to fund its winter production, the Shakespeare masterpiece “Macbeth.”
Remaining Performances: November 19, 20 and 21 at 7:00 p.m.
James Koval Center for the Performing Arts
600 Sleater-Kinney Rd NE in Lacey
General Admission: $8
Military, Senior, or ASB: $5