Birdie lets kids be kids (easier said than done)
Kids will be kids. But when that old adage is transferred to the theater, its not quite as simple as it sounds.Jayne Gottlieb and Adam Bartley, the principals of the local childrens theater company Gottlieb Bartley Productions, have show a tremendous knack for working with young actors. Since the company formed originally as Jayne Gottlieb Productions three years ago, they have fulfilled their mission of staging professional-grade musical productions in the valley. The company launched with a relatively modest version of A Jungle Book, featuring 20 kids. The troupe made its presence known by staging The Wizard of Oz outdoors, in Basalts Arbaney Park a logistical headache, but an eye-catching bit of showmanship. This past fall, with the number of total participants up around 100, the company turned heads again in Basalt, with a version of Peter Pan that featured kids flying around the stage, and made a dazzling Aspen debut, with an assured production of Singin in the Rain.But all those musicals featured, more or less, kids playing adult characters. For their next number, Gottlieb and Bartley are letting their kids be kids. Bye Bye Birdie, which shows today through Sunday at the Wheeler Opera House, features the young actors, ages roughly 6-12, playing young people. The show, which debuted on Broadway in 1960, revolves around teenagers in the 1950s, and their idolizing of a rock star.Whats funny is, they seem to have a harder time being themselves, being kids, than being adults, said Bartley, a part-time producer/director with the company, until he moved to the valley in February to become a full-time partner with Gottlieb. The fact that its tougher for the young actors to create a character that is more like their offstage selves comes as no surprise to Bartley and Gottlieb. Doing Bye Bye Birdie makes the stage less of a place of fantasy, and more a reflection of their true selves. Theyre at that age where theyre starting to have crushes on each other and theyre up on stage having crushes on each other. Thats hard, said Gottlieb.While they are discovering themselves, the young actors are also learning about an era that is not their own. Bye Bye Birdie is set in the 50s. At the center of the story is Conrad Birdie, an Elvis Presley-like rock n roll singer who has been drafted into the army. Conrad picks a fan from a small Ohio town, Kim McAfee, to be the recipient of his last kiss before he heads to basic training. Kims friends go predictably wild as does her boyfriend, Hugo. The musical, with such hit songs as Put on a Happy Face and Telephone Hour, focuses on the effects of the event on the people, especially the young people, of Sweet Apple.Having them learn about the 50s, Elvis, that whole craze they have no reference for that, said Bartley who, like Gottlieb, is 29, and was born before Presley died. We had to tell our lead player, Luke Seamans [who plays Conrad], to go to You Tube and check out Elvis.The actors also needed to acquaint themselves with the idealized family life in the 50s, a conceit which Bye Bye Birdie buys into completely.The dad reads the paper at breakfast, said Gottlieb. The mom cooks, cuddles her kids, is emotionally very dramatic and caring.And their daughter [Kim] has turned to the dark side, the dark rock n roll side. Not following the plan. And the mom wants her daughter back from the throes of Conrad Birdie, the obsession.Gottlieb, Bartley and their kids move back into the fantasy realm soon enough. Next weekend, the older kids in their company put on Beauty and the Beast (May 17-18, Wheeler). Beyond that, there is a very mature production, A Chorus Line, scheduled for July. For that show, Gottlieb and Bartley are toning down the maturity level, so that their young actors wont be acting too much like adults.Gottlieb Bartley Productions presents Bye Bye Birdie at the Wheeler Opera House tonight at 7 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday at 2 firstname.lastname@example.org
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