With a musical comedy that harks back to simpler times, the Summer Performing Arts Company offers theater-goers an evening of lighthearted entertainment as a mid-summer diversion.

The company is gearing up for a four-day run of “Bye Bye Birdie,” starting July 12 at Grand Forks Central High School.

The story of “Bye Bye Birdie” was inspired by singer Elvis Presley being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1957.

The name of the lead character, “Conrad Birdie,” is a word play on Conway Twitty, a country singer who was, at that time, a teen idol pop artist.

Set in a small Ohio town in the early ‘60s, the play tells the story of a famous rock-n-roll heartthrob who gets his draft notice and, as a publicity stunt, chooses a random, all-American girl for a very public final kiss before reporting for duty.

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The story will strike a chord with audience members, said Rich McFarlane, the play’s director and a speech and theater teacher at Red River High School.

“Almost everyone can relate back to where they were as teenagers” and being consumed by fierce loyalty to the latest, hottest entertainer, he said.

With an extensive cast, “Bye Bye Birdie” offers the SPA student-actors a lot of opportunities to perform on stage.

“We chose ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ because our program accepts every single student that wants to be part of it,” McFarlane said. “And so you need to select shows that can accommodate a mass number of students and also give students opportunities to shine in lead roles and mid-lead roles.

“This show has tons of little solos, tons of characters, tons of lines spread out among a lot of different roles," he said.

Though “Bye Bye Birdie” doesn’t offer a lot of dance numbers, McFarlane and his directing crew have expanded some numbers, which called for one or a couple characters, to give more students more stage time.

First-timers

For many of the students who are enrolled in SPA, “Bye Bye Birdie” is their first theatrical production.

For example, this is the first play that Katie Evans, who just completed ninth grade, has ever been cast in “and she landed a lead role,” McFarlane said. “And she’s doing great.”

Evans, a student at Red River High School, said she tried out for SPA because she “wanted to try something new and to meet new people.”

What she has enjoyed most, so far, is “getting to know other people and singing together as a group,” she said.

Students on the technical crew also gain hands-on experience with building sets, painting, lighting and operating the sound systems, all under adult supervision, McFarlane said.

Since “Bye Bye Birdie” was last performed by SPA in 2009, the advances that have occurred in theater technology are “striking,” McFarlane said.

“It’s all computer-controlled now,” he said, noting that, with “the LED (backdrop light system), you can create any color in the spectrum.”

Who is Ed Sullivan?

Certain aspects of the play, replete with references to the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, are foreign to today’s teens.

“We had to explain to them who Ed Sullivan was,” McFarlane said. “And there’s a lot of humor that is geared to adults goes over their heads.”

But other themes, such as teenage adulation of pop icons and prejudice, are familiar.

“The show has so many references to the ‘50s and ‘60s, but so many of those elements are universally timeless and still resonate today,” McFarlane said.

Many in the audience will recognize songs such as “Kids” -- as the grown-ups in the play lament, “What’s the matter with kids today?” -- and “Put on a Happy Face,” the most universally known song and one that most people don’t realize is from this show, McFarlane said.

Birdie’s performance of the song “Sincere” is a “fast-paced, high-octane number” that the audience is sure to enjoy, he said.

As they watch this play, audience members will enjoy watching “75 kids up there performing and having a blast,” McFarlane said. “They’ll enjoy some fun dance numbers.”

Cast members in this production are: Evan Ingle (as Albert Peterson), Ellie Knudsvig (Rose Alvarez), Simon Haug (Conrad Birdie), Sophia LeMire (Mae Peterson), Katie Evans (Kim MacAfee), Josh Amundson (Harry MacAfee), Ava Holweger (Doris MacAfee), Justin Schepp (Randolph MacAfee), Tanner Schiller (Hugh Peabody), Claire Huebner (Ursula Merkle), Tatum Mosely (Alice), Emmalynn Danielson (Margie), Lucy Welsh (Nancy),

Becca Bradbury (Helen), Hannah Bensley (Penelope Ann), Brooke Donacki (Deborah Sue), Claudia Dunnick (Suzie), Cooper Miller (Harvey Johnson), Ryan Polasky (Fred), Blake Storbakken (Karl), Adam McMullin (Mayor), Jada Jensen (Edna), Carter Schmisek (Charles F. Maude), Finn Jackson (Maude’s Dishwasher), Emmett Sum (Maude’s First Customer), Carson Ohnstad (Maude’s Second Customer), Ashley Berger (Gloria Rasputin), Jason Beiswenger (Mr. Johnson) and Abby Zola (Mrs. Merke).

Ensemble members are: Nicole Anderson, Lewis Beaver, Saffire Becker-Janes, Paige Bekkedahl, Sapphire Boehm, Kevn Chaves, Cosette Clement, Abagail Courtney, Kathryn Courtney, Julia Dawes, Conrad Dipple, Eliza Dodds, Jazmine Doyea, Avery Dusterhoft, Teanna Eley, Matthew Garnett, Clara Green, Hannah Holte, Quinn Jenkins, Jordyn Keenan, Zoelle Kempenich, Kaylee Kirkeby, Connor Leao, Nora Lee, Sacred Luke, Zihan McFarlane, Jiselle McGurran, Jasmine Mize, Emma Moe, Shamaya Morin, Adam Olson, Sadie Page, Brady Price, Sofia Ramirez, Gabriel Restemeyer, Tessa Sanner, Quinlan Schudrowitz, Onalee Shogren, Hope Stramer, Tyler Tonkin, Halle Wavra and Robin Zilka.

Crew members are: Sydnee Boucher, Kaid Brewster, Alexis Clausen, Kieran Dale, Kaylee Duchaine, Haley Jorgenson, Arilyn Olson, Jack Parrish, Tyler Peasland, Josh Pieper, Nicholas Schlief, Eliot Schumacher, Alexzander Toupin, Erik Walker, Chloe Whaley and Emily Whaley.

Student musicians are: Grant Anderson, Rachel Craig, Claire Lapp, Mandy Ly, Noah Severud, Elsa Musselman, Emma Rudow, Bryce Bushee, Kai Zahui, Dan Musselman, Alex Berglund, Ryan Worrall, Blake Anderson and Maisy Lindseth.

The SPA Company presents “Tuck Everlasting” on July 20-23 at Red River High School. For more information or to make reservations, call (701) 746-2411 or visit www.spacompany.org.

IF YOU GO

What: ‘Bye Bye Birdie,’ a musical comedy presented by the Summer Performing Arts (SPA) Company

Where: Grand Forks Central High School Auditorium, 115 N. Fourth St.

When: 7 p.m. July 12, 13 and 15; and 4 p.m. July 14

Admission: Adults, $12; seniors (55+), $10; children and students, $6

For more information or to make reservations, visit www.spacompany.org or call (701) 746-2411.