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Harrison High Stage Veterans, Newcomers Star in 'Bye Bye Birdie'

Tickets are on sale now for performances Jan. 26-29 at the Farmington Hills school.

While cast members in  production of Bye Bye Birdie are having fun, they're also very serious about putting on a good show. 

Freshman Kate Kreiss said the more than 50 students involved in the production are rehearsing about three hours a night as they head into the final weeks before the show opens on Jan. 26.

Kreiss plays teen-ager Kim MacAffee, a fan of teen idol Conrad Birdie, who is about to be drafted into the Army. She has done some acting, she said, "but never anything like this ... These are people who are really serious about what they do. It's more fun."

Sophomore Katie Dodd, who plays Rose Grant, the secretary of Birdie's agent, agrees that hard work makes the experience more enjoyable. "You put on a better production," she said. 

The cast is a mix of veteran Harrison actors, like senior Jon Opra, who plays Mr. MacAffee, and first-timers, like senior Maurice Dowell, who has the title role. Dowell's only other acting experience was a summer camp production of The Wiz.

"I figured it was my senior year, why not give it a shot?" he said of why he decided to audition. "I love it, the show's really fun."

Opra, on the other hand, has been acting since 3rd grade, when he was in the cast of a church play. He has since performed in Seussical the Musical, The Music Man, Hello Dolly! and Beauty and the Beast.

"This show is kind of a historical satire on when Elvis (Presley) got drafted," he said. "Everybody sees the public side of it, but nobody sees the publicist's side of it." 

Because cast members (and, probably, some of their parents) were born well after the play's late 1950s time frame, some students are assigned to do research into that era. They are also are responsible for building the set. 

"It's another thing that brings us closer together," said sophomore Ben Vento, who plays publicist Albert Peterson.

In an interesting twist, Dodd, who is British, plays a character who is Hispanic. Cast members say that kind of diversity is also reflected in play selection over the years and makes Harrison theater different from and programs. 

"It's the variety of what we've done," said junior Erin Lightner, who plays Mrs. MacAffee. 

Bye Bye Birdie performances, under the direction of Tom Schroeder and Dean Cobb, are slated at 8 p.m. Jan. 26, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27 and 28, and 2 p.m. Jan. 29. Tickets are $12, $10 for students and seniors. Advance ticket purchases are recommended; call 248-888-6274.

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