It’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re a rock ‘n’ roll heartthrob in the 1950s who has garnered the affection of every girl in the country — only to discover you’ve been drafted into the Army.
This is the predicament Conrad Birdie (Steven Calakos) finds himself in, in New Candlelight Theatre’s production of the Tony Awards-winning musical “Bye Bye Birdie.” The show, directed by Dan Dunn, will kickoff Friday.
The musical, composed by Charles Strouse with lyrics from Lee Adams, was adapted from the book of the same title penned by Michael Stewart.
Calakos, 25, of Vineland, N.J., gave us a peak behind the curtain of what audiences can expect from the famed musical.
Q What interests you about Conrad Birdie?
A I had already done the role before at Cumberland Community College in 2009, so I thought it would be a lot of fun to reprise the role. I actually really enjoy talking to the older audience members because they can relate to the musical a little bit more than the younger generation. It’s fun always hearing them compare Conrad Birdie to Elvis and then hearing their experiences with Elvis.
Q What have you learned from playing Conrad in Cumberland’s “Bye Bye Birdie?”
A I think now, performing the role again, I’m a little bit more comfortable with trying new things. And it’s always nice having a new director because you get a different perspective on things. Even with Conrad Birdie, I’m starting to understand his character a little better. He’s just this young guy who’s just over all the hype and publicity and just wants to live his life. But he can’t, because he’s a celebrity.
Q How have you put your stamp on Conrad?
A I definitely don’t want Conrad to seem very serious. I’d like to think that I’m goofy sometimes, so I kind of put some quirks into my character. Vocally everyone has their vocal style. I tried to stay within the 1950s time period, but I still add my own little flair to Conrad’s solos and his songs to make it fun. But most importantly, I try to stay true to the time period.
Q How did you prepare for this role?
A This has been a process for me because I’ve played this type of role time-and-time again. I played Danny Zuko in “Grease,” Chad in “All Shook Up” and I’ve played Conrad Birdie. I’ve watched YouTube videos. I grew up singing Elvis songs and my dad is a huge Elvis fan. So I think having that experience and watching Elvis on TV and on the Internet, that sort of helps me with my understanding of Conrad Birdie.
Q How has New Candlelight distinguished this show from other theater companies?
A With Dan having this vision of “Bye Bye Birdie,” he just constantly reminds us that Conrad is basically an American idol. That’s what he wants the audience to believe. So I think what you will see on stage is that: an American idol of the 1950s.