Musicals are usually crowd pleasers, and with its production of the classic Broadway hit Bye Bye Birdie, the Peoria Community Theatre Company guarantees audiences won’t be disappointed. "The great thing about a musical written about the 1950s is the audience has as much fun as the cast," said Company founder Pam Orear. "The show is filled with good old-fashioned fun; it’s entertainment for the entire family."

Bye Bye Birdie tells the story of a rock and roll singer who’s about to be inducted into the Army. "Complications arise when his agent stages a publicity stunt on the Ed Sullivan Show in which Conrad will bid one lucky typical American teenage girl good-bye with an all-American kiss. The show is a satire done with the fondest affection," Orear said.

First opening on Broadway in 1960, Bye Bye Birdie featured Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera and was the first big hit for songwriter Charles Strouse and librettist Lee Adams, Orear said. The show includes musical numbers such as "The Telephone Hour," "Put on a Happy Face," "Kids," and "One Last Kiss."

Orear said this production of Bye Bye Birdie consists of a cast of 160 talented local adults and youth ranging in age from five to 70. "It features Clark Oltman, DiAnne Zelmer, Jeremy Salzman, Peggy Jo Vilberg, Brittany Pflederer, Jerry Rooney, Erin Durbin, and Quinn Orear."

The show is directed by Orear, and Peggy Breaux is choreographer.

The large number of cast members doesn’t bother Orear; in fact, she prefers it that way. "I’ve always loved to direct a large cast and find it can be spectacular and exciting when watching big production numbers come alive. I’ve directed many shows as a professional but find community theatre to be much more rewarding, especially when it’s benefiting a cause."

Orear said the Peoria Community Theatre Company’s mission is to provide performance and backstage opportunities to a broad base of community members, to produce quality family entertainment, and to give back to the arts within the Peoria community through the show’s proceeds. "It was started last year as a way of utilizing a large number of the community’s theatrical talent while raising money for the arts. My husband and I produced last summer’s production of Annie as our way of giving back. We were both professional performers in Los Angeles and are now doing theatre strictly as volunteers."

Annie was seen by 3,000 patrons and raised funds to install the first phase of a new sound system in the Richwoods auditorium. The second and final phase of the system will be purchased with the proceeds raised from Bye Bye Birdie.

Orear said Richwoods was chosen as a location for the performances-and as a beneficiary of the funds raised-for several reasons. "My son is involved in theatre there, I graduated from there, and they had an immediate need. They were also very willing to collaborate with us."

This isn’t the first time Orear has organized theatre for a cause. "While living in Champaign, I founded a youth theatre to benefit the YMCA youth programs. It was very profitable for the YMCA and rewarding for the kids involved since they felt they were helping others. I also directed a large cast for the CUTC community theatre in Champaign and found it really got a great deal of adults involved in theatre when they participated with their children. Also, it allows many who live in smaller communities-who perhaps normally wouldn’t get the chance-to experience the joy of live theatre first hand."

Orear said this production of Bye Bye Birdie is truly a family, as well as a community, event. "Within the cast of 160 are 42 family units, with three families having three generations of performers. Don Mathews is performing with her daughter, Peggy Breaux, and five grandchildren. Marianne Campbell can be seen onstage with her daughter, DiAnn Zelmer, and granddaughter, Lexi; and Jean Butterly is enjoying performing with her daughter, Nancy Wraight, and her husband, Brian, along with their daughter, Alexis. Sara Pilcher can also be seen dancing along with her granddaughter, Sara. Many more moms, dads, sisters, and brothers are having a great time sharing their talents and passion of theatre with one another."

She said that’s one more reason she believes in community theatre. "We’ve had many families do shows together-many adults who hadn’t done shows for a while because they were raising a family. But they found they could get involved with their own kids. My husband and I have been doing shows with our children for the past 12 years. The love of theatre is contagious, and most of the cast members either continue in other community theatre endeavors or are always a supporting and enthusiastic audience. We’re following that pattern here."

As for people who say the Peoria area already has its share of community theatres, Orear said the more the merrier. "As long as there’s an audience and talented cast and crew members, there will always be room for more theatre and theatre companies. Whether they last one year or 100 isn’t important. Theatre companies come and go by the hundreds in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, but out of every one of them comes someone who benefits from their training or exposure-or an audience member who was entertained or moved by a production. It’s the good they produce that keeps the arts alive."

Performances for Bye Bye Birdie take place at 7:30 p.m., July 31 to August 2, and 1:30 p.m., August 2 and 3, in the air-conditioned theater at Richwoods High School. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $10 for youth 12 and under, and can be purchased at Schnucks on University or at the door.

For more information, call 691-3319. AA!