It's not your Mom and Dad's "Bye Bye Birdie."
Penny Orloff, who's directing the Longview Stageworks' "Birdie" that opens Friday, has tweaked the rock musical to bring back the edge it had 40 years ago.
"Bye Bye Birdie" revolves around a rock singer's relationship with a sweet young suburban girl. When the musical came out in 1960, parents were reeling over the then-risque Elvis, on whom Birdie is based. Reactions to the King gave the show shock value in addition to catchy songs, Orloff said.
"I have seen other productions of this and it's dated," she said.
"We all know what happened to Elvis, how he died. He wasn't just a clean-cut kid." Since the show came out, rock music also has aged, into "classic" music. And America's sense of innocence portrayed in the original show was tempered by the Civil Rights struggle, the Vietnam war and the assassinations of JFK and MLK.
So the Birdie who appears at the Columbia Theatre will be a lot more like Keith Richards, an aging rocker who's paid his dues, than Bobby Rydell. This Birdie is 42 and an ex-con. "Suddenly, it's dangerous" when he hooks up with teen-ager Kim MacAfee, Orloff said.
In the original story, Birdie is a young heartthrob who, like Elvis, has been drafted into the Army. In this version, Birdie is out of prison for an incident involving "jailbait" and has to go to Vietnam with Bob Hope and entertain troops.
Birdie's agent, Albert Peterson, stages a publicity event: A 16-year-old girl (Kim MacAfee), is chosen to give Birdie his last kiss before he enlists. Birdie travels to Sweet Apple, Ohio, to meet MacAfee under the watchful eye of her father, who in this version of the show is younger than Birdie. But Kim's boyfriend, Hugo, schemes to keep Birdie from smooching Kim.
Meanwhile, Peterson's secretary, Rosie, wants him to settle down as an English teacher and marry her.
In Longview, William Scott Brown of New York will play Mr. MacAfee. Brown toured for a decade in several roles of "Phantom of the Opera" and has appeared in theater and TV in Los Angeles. After witnessing the World Trade Center towers collapse, he decided to take a break by visiting friends in Long Beach — then he heard about the Stageworks show.
Bill Hunker of Portland plays Birdie as "kind of Southern, kind of stupid," he said. "It's so ludicrous. There's the humor." Hunker, who says he's "older than 42," has worked as a pianist and religious singer.
Nineteen-year-old Stephanie Steidley of Longview. is Kim MacAfee. She has appeared in several Stageworks shows.
Stageworks artistic director Jesse Merz plays Albert, and his real wife, Laurel Merz, plays his future wife in "Birdie." Eighty-three-year-old Zoe MacKenzie plays Albert's possessive mother in what Orloff called "one of the great old-lady parts."
The cast includes about 40 people, and a six-piece orchestra will provide the music. Though previous Stageworks shows were done in the smaller Pepper Theater, "Birdie" is in the main 1,000-seat Columbia Theatre.
Orloff, who choreographed the show, said she was pleasantly surprised during auditions at how well the young people who play Sweet Apple teen-agers can sing. Many take voice lessons from Sue Hinshaw of Longview, she discovered. "We have an uncredited vocal coach in the show."
Orloff called the dialogue "wall-to-wall jokes" and said she paced the delivery to resemble a vaudeville routine. But she updated the humor, even adding a Bill Clinton joke.
She promises a fast-paced and fancy-costume show. "Orloff's first theorem is that if their butts hurt, it's a bad show. …. a Penny Orloff show comes in under two hours and has sequins."
Orloff has a thick resume. Originally from Los Angeles, she studied opera at the Julliard School in New York. A coloratura soprano, she sang for seven seasons with the New York City opera, specializing in Mozart roles.
Among her projects have been writing pop versions of Mozart operas, with "Cosi fan Tutte" set in a Texas saloon.
Orloff also played lead dramatic roles on and off Broadway, working with such stars as Joel Grey and under directors Harold Prince and Joseph Papp.
For the past 14 years, she's lived in a secluded cabin east of Everett, Wash. and has done a dozen revues for East Shore Dinner Theater in Bellevue. Her one-woman show, "Jewish Thighs on Broadway," was presented at the Seattle Fringe Theater Festival in 2000 and around the country. "It's like an 85-minute resume," she said.
Orloff said she turned to directing and teaching out of a desire to share her experience. "I have so much to do and maybe only 100 years to do it in…There's nothing I like more than pontificating. At 53, I must pass it on. I have to shine."
Orloff is a cheerleader for taking chances in life. "You have to live in the moment. My mission is to inspire people to live their dreams."
If You Go
What: Longview Stageworks production of rock musical "Bye Bye Birdie"
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and again Feb. 15-16 and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and Feb. 16-17. Where: Columbia Theater main auditorium.
Tickets: 15 adults evenings, $9 matinees. 10 percent off for students and seniors. Available at CTPA box office, 575-8499.