Archive for July, 2013

An Excellent Review of BYE BYE BIRDIE from Paul Gnadt of The Star Group


We’ve reached the final weekend of BYE BYE BIRDIE at Plaza Theatre Company. And if you haven’t yet seen this amazing cast in action there’s still time. Read this excellent review of the show by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers, then give us a call at 817-202-0600 to reserve your seats – you’ll be glad you did. Now, read on:

by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers

Hurry. There’s still time to see “Bye Bye Birdie,” the current production of the Plaza Theatre Company at the Plaza Theatre in downtown Cleburne.

PTC is also simultaneously presenting “Smoke on the Mountain” at the Cleburne Conference Center, which, given its impressive stable of talent, is no problem.

While “Smoke” is about the Sanders family, “Birdie” is a family affair as directed by the mother-daughter team of Tina and Tabitha Barrus, with the husband and wife team of Josh and Caitlin Leblo in the lead roles of songwriter/agent Albert Peterson and his secretary/girlfriend Rose Alvarez.

There is also a cast of what seems like thousands but are actually students of PTC’s summer teen dance camp.

After two weeks of intense training, the teens explode with boundless energy in numerous musical numbers that feature clever choreography and some really neat tap dancing, especially in “Put on a Happy Face”.

Everyone who grew up a fan of Elvis Presley (like me) is sure the musical is based on his leaving for the Army, and there is plenty of evidence to support that: the hairstyle of rock ‘n’ roll star Conrad Birdie (played by Brandon McCormick), the twist on the name Birdie, which could be Elvis’ rival Conway Twitty, and the prominent and very funny scene involving the “Ed Sullivan Show,” on which Elvis’ twisting hips were famously kept off screen.

Anyway, here’s the plot.

Albert Peterson (Josh Leblo) is in deep hair jell because his meal ticket has been drafted into the Army. Albert’s secretary, Rose, (Caitlin Leblo), creates a publicity stunt to have Birdie record and perform a song — “One Last Kiss” —  before he is sent overseas. The song is to be sung on the Sullivan show with one girl from Birdie’s fan club getting the last kiss.

The lucky girl is Kim McAfee (Madeline Smith), 15, from Sweet Apple, Ohio, where Kim has a boyfriend (double-cast with Parker Barrus and Jesse Bowron) who thinks Kim likes Conrad more than she does him.

Conrad is a guest at Kim’s house, where her father, Harry (played hilariously by G. Aaron Siler) hates Conrad until told they are all going to be on the Sullivan show doing a remote from the house.

During the telecast, a fight breaks out and it’s funny, funny stuff. Be sure and keep your eye on Siler, a master of physical comedy.

It all works out in the end, it just takes a little while and 24 song, dance, song and dance, and tap dance numbers to get there during the two-hour performance, including the 15-minute intermission.

This is a good one to just sit back, relax and enjoy the music and dancing.
From a book by Michael Stewart, with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams, “Bye Bye Birdie” features Glenn Turner as musical director and Hanna Midkiff as assistant camp director for the teen actors.

Costume design is by Kara Barnes, sound by Aaron Siler, lights by Cameron Barrus, with sets designed by Tina Barrus and constructed by JaceSon Barrus.

“Birdie” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Saturday through Aug. 3 at the Plaza Theatre, 111 N. Main St. in Cleburne.

Tickets — $15 for adults, $14 for age 65 and older, $14 for students and $13 for age 12 and under are available at the box office, or online at, or by calling 817-202-0600.

Casting Announcement: DEAR RUTH at Plaza Theatre Company


Plaza Theatre Company is pleased to announce the official Cast List for it’s upcoming production of DEAR RUTH. The show is set to open September 13th and will play thru October 5th. It will be under the direction of Taffy Geisel with stage management by Emily Warwick. Thanks to all who auditioned and congratulations to those who have been cast.

The cast is as follows: (double cast where noted)

JUDGE HARRY WILKINS – Jay A. Cornils, Luke Hunt

MRS. EDITH WILKINS – Katy Wood, Cheryl Coward King

RUTH WILKINS – Tabitha Barrus, Kellie Nickell

MIRIAM WILKINS – Rachel Browning, Brooke Verbois

DORA the MAID – Becki Schoen, Ruth Anne Warwick


Sgt. CHUCK VINCENT – Michael Sorter, Jesse Bowron

MARTHA SEAWRIGHT – Scout Harrell, Dora Hunt

ALBERT KUMMER – Jonathan Metting

Summer at PlazaCo – Three Great Shows NOW PLAYING


Some Great Photos Of SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN by Stacey Greenawalt King

Here are some great shots of PlazaCo’s currently running production of SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN taken by Stacey Greenawalt King. Enjoy the pix, then give us a call to make your reservations – 817-202-0600 or visit

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Press Release: SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN at Plaza Theatre Company


Plaza Theatre Company Presenting An Encore Production of SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN Opening July 18th

July 11th, 2013

Plaza Theatre Company is proud to announce the opening of an encore production of SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN on July 18th, 2013. The production will play at the Cleburne Conference Center Theater at 1501 W. Henderson Str. in Cleburne, TX opening on July 18th and playing thru August 3rd. It will be the 66th show produced by Plaza Theatre Company since it’s inception in November of 2006.

The Cleburne Conference Center Theater is the regular home of the Carnegie Players who recently completed a successful run of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF on that stage. PlazaCo’s regular Mainstage production of BYE BYE BIRDIE will continue playing at Plaza’s regular 111 S. Main location thru August 3rd as well.

SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN tells the story of a Saturday Night Gospel Sing at a country church in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1938. The show features two dozen rousing bluegrass songs played and sung by the Sanders Family Singers – a family singing group on the gospel circuit during The Great Depression. Between songs, each family member “witnesses” – telling a story about an important event in their life. Though they try to appear perfect in the eyes of a congregation who wants to be inspired by their songs, one thing after another goes awry and they reveal their true – and hilariously imperfect – natures. By the evening’s end, the Sanders Family have endeared themselves to the congregation (the audience) by revealing their weaknesses and allowing them to share in their triumphs.

Plaza has produced all three of the shows in the SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN trilogy, but many consider the first one the best. And we’re thrilled to start at the beginning for this special encore production of the show featuring many members of Plaza’s original cast. They’re back, and better than ever!

The Cast List for SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN is: (Double Cast where noted)

Pastor Oglethorpe – Jonathan Metting

June Sanders – Camille Shaw

Burl Sanders – Kevin Poole

Vera Sanders – Samantha Parrish

Stanley Sanders – JaceSon P. Barrus

Denise Sanders – Kasi Hollowell

Dennis Sanders – Andrew Guzman

Myrtle – Jamie Dugger

Maude – Corliss Cornils, Priscilla Nix

Melva (on Piano) – Cheri Mega

Cousin Buford (on Bass) – Bob Gracey

Fiddlin’ Forrest (on Fiddle) – Howard Geisel

Pickin’ Parker (on Guitar) – Parker Barrus

The production is under the direction of JaceSon Barrus with stage management by Stefanie Glenn. The show will open on Thursday July 18th at 7:30pm and will then play every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening thru August 3rd at 7:30pm with Saturday matinees every Saturday afternoon at 3pm. Ticket prices are $15 for Adults, $14 for Seniors and Students and $13 for Children with an extra $1 service charge per ticket to the Cleburne Conference Center.

Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 817-202-0600, by visiting or visiting the Plaza Box Office between the hours of 10am and 6pm Monday thru Saturday.

In Honor Of Opening SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN This Thursday


SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN begins its encore performances this Thursday evening at 7:30pm at the Cleburne Conference Center Theater. The show will then play Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 thru August 3rd with Saturday matinees at 3pm. Tickets are available by calling the Plaza Box Office at 817-202-0600 or by visiting Plaza Online Ticketing at – Now enjoy some photos from past productions of SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN at PlazaCo, then make your reservations to come enjoy the show.

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Youth Summer Show Camp Starts Monday! – THE JUNGLE BOOK

Jungle Book

Our youth summer show camp is back after a thrilling debut last year with SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK LIVE! This year promises to be even better as students will create and present a production of THE JUNGLE BOOK KIDS! In this unforgettable two week summer camp, students will have fun filled mornings of dance, music, and acting classes. Afternoons will be spent in workshops and rehearsing for their very own performance of Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK KIDS! Students will have a great time making new friends while learning theatre skills they will keep the rest of their lives.

Ages: 8-12

July 8 – 19 (M-F, 9am-3pm)

Performances: July 20 -30

Tuition: $200

If you have interest in registering your child, space is limited but there is still time. Only 5 spots remain so give us a call today at 817-202-0600. Make this a summer your child will never forget!

The review of BYE BYE BIRDIE from The Column by John Garcia


BYE BYE BIRDIE is the current production at Plaza Theatre Company now Playing thru August 3rd. The show opened this past weekend to sold out houses and high-energy fun. Read on for a lovely review of the show by Bonnie K. Daman of The Column by John Garcia, then give us a call at 817-202-0600 to get your seats today. Congratulations to our BBB cast and crew for a wonderful opening and a terrific review.

__________________________BYE, BYE BIRDIE________________________

Reviewed by Bonnie K. Daman, Associate Theater Critic
for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

Swinging into the 1950s for its 66th production, Plaza Theatre Company presents Bye, Bye Birdie, a jumpin’ and jivin’ tribute to the Tony Award-winning musical. Full of passion, young love and zany characters, the theatre’s summer lineup of song and dance productions is off to a strong start. Bye, Bye Birdie features a solid lead cast and a teen-centric ensemble with plenty of hits and very few misses.

Setting precedence for the next two hours, a mob of star struck youngsters opens the show with squeals and earplug-worthy screams for Conrad Birdie, a singer who has been drafted into the Army. Fresh off their two-week summer camp, approximately twenty members of Plaza’s Teen Show Camp are given the opportunity to perform in Bye, Bye Birdie, with some appearing for the first time on stage. Plaza’s inclusion of the intensive class members, whose ages range from 13-18, into one of their mainstream shows is educationally sound but the overwhelming amount of ensemble members overcrowds the already small theater-in-the-round space. The group brings plenty of vocal power to the show but scenes with choreography, unless simplified, are sometimes messy and scene changes with such a large crowd can be chaotic. However, in the essence of presenting a perfectly clean show versus providing their students with an unforgettable experience, I prefer the latter.

Josh Leblo is pleasantly awkward and sheepish as momma’s boy Albert Peterson, the first of several New York characters. Leblo’s first big number, “Put on a Happy Face”, is barely an introduction to his musical talent but he does a decent job keeping up with the dancers. It isn’t until the second act that his performance becomes more natural with the character’s bumbling demeanor. The true moment where Leblo’s casting is solidified is during “Baby, Talk to Me”. His smooth, crooner voice is perfectly romantic as he attempts to woo Rose. While Leblo has excellent chemistry with Trich Zaitoon (as his mother) as Albert begins to stand up for himself, Leblo’s overall performance could add more variety to the character’s tone, breaking up Albert’s whiny and stressed out moments, of which there seem to be a lot. Perhaps that is why Leblos’s closing number stands out since his singing voice and romantic moments with Rose are in such stark contrast and feel honest.

As Rose Alvarez, Caitlin Leblo complements her part in the
Albert/Rose storyline with strength and bravado. Her take action, no nonsense approach to her relationship with Albert while moving the story along is well-orchestrated and Leblo easily becomes the show’s anchor. Her alto voice has a clear tone that projects beautifully in her upper register.

As the lead adult female, Leblo matches the elegance and class of the style of women from the 1950s (at times somewhat reminiscent of Rosemary Clooney) and brings some much needed maturity to the stage when comparing to the amount of teen characters and adults that act like teenagers. Leblo’s best performance is “Spanish Rose”. It’s a tongue-in-cheek song that has Rose, a local girl from Allentown, PA, sarcastically embellishing her Spanish heritage. Leblo is witty and delightful throughout the entire number, even contending with some breath-stealing choreography. Her softer moments are some of her best work and can be partly attributed to her connection with Josh Leblo.

Together, Josh and Caitlin Leblo (husband and wife offstage) have the best chemistry during their lovey-dovey moments. Go figure. Romance aside; the pair actually have good comedic timing and a natural rhythm to their dialogue as Albert and Rose. The final duet, “Rosie”, shows off their playfulness with and endearment of each other that would be nice to see glimpses of earlier on.

The seemingly ever-present thorn in Rose’s side comes in the form of Albert’s mother Mae Peterson. Played by Plaza veteran Trich Zaitoon, the brash, conniving mother of all mothers comes to life on stage in what’s sure to be an award-nominated performance. Zaitoon is masterful at embodying Mae Peterson, milking every ounce of pitying emotion she can from her son in order to get her way. She has the right amount of likeability mixed with some New York attitude that makes her character a standout role. Zaitoon’s swan song in Act II set to the militaristic song “Glory, Hallelujah”, is deliciously satisfying to watch.

Rounding out the New York cast is Brandon McCormick as Conrad Birdie, the most glorified character of Bye, Bye Birdie. For all the pomp and circumstance Birdie receives as a big time rock star, McCormick is underwhelming in his portrayal. His vocals are good and he has the look, however the character needs more pizzazz and more confidence. McCormick’s rendition of “A Lot of Livin’ To Do” shows that he can let loose and he garners a few laughs during an interchange with Mae Peterson. McCormick has the potential but needs more time to warm up to his character.

Leading the cast of Sweet Apple, OH, is the all-American MacAfee family. Madeline Smith plays fifteen-year-old Kim MacAfee, the lucky teen whom Conrad Birdie is set to kiss before going into the Army. Smith gives a great performance. Her too-mature-for-her-age attitude is perfectly delivered and she excels at being an overly-dramatic, coy, surly and bubbly teen, just a few examples of the character’s highs and lows. Smith handles them all with finesse.

G. Aaron Siler is an absolute scene stealer as Harry MacAfee. In a role made famous by the amazing Paul Lynde, Siler fills the character’s shoes so well and so honestly that he makes it all the more comical. Most of Siler’s great moments occur in his reactions to the actors around him. The breakfast scene in which Kim and Mrs. MacAfee prepare for Conrad is well-structured and rehearsed but it is Siler’s demeanor that makes the shtick work. The best reaction is during “Honestly Sincere” when all of Sweet Apple seems to have lost their sense of propriety except for Mr. MacAfee. Once again, Siler gives the audience a performance to remember and the entertainment keeps coming. From the Ed Sullivan Show scene to “Kids”, Siler can’t help but draw your attention.

The other half of the MacAfee family is Emily Warwick as the mother, Doris MacAfee, and Henry Cawood as little brother Randolph. Warwick is a powerhouse singer with few musical numbers to showcase her talent but among the small chorus and group numbers she has a beautiful, prominent voice you cannot miss. She displays a meekness and quirkiness to Mrs. MacAfee that balances well with Siler. She finds these small moments, such as during “Honestly Sincere” or during Kim’s telephone call, to bring those traits out and creates a gem of a character. Cawood’s performance as Randolph is a cross between Opie Taylor and little brother Randy from A Christmas Story. I typically view Randolph as a throw-away character to help round out the cast, but in Cawood’s case, this young actor can hold his own. He is feisty but sincere without being bratty, and boy can this kid sing! Cawood’s solo in the “Kids Reprise” is spot on and he is a joy to watch.

Among the throng of teens, one stand-out character is Scout Harrell as Ursula Merkle, Kim’s best friend and president of the Sweet Apple Conrad Birdie Fan Club. She certainly has the term “free-spirited” coined to her performance and to say that Harris exudes charisma and charm is an understatement. Ursula’s cringe-worthy personality is not for the timid. Harrell is bold in her choices and gives a phenomenal, spirited performance.

Directing the production is mother-daughter team Tina and Tabitha Barrus in their first co-directing project. Bye, Bye Birdie is a classic show that has been performed for over fifty years but Tina and Tabitha manage to utilize their large cast to bring this much-loved musical to the Plaza stage. It was interesting to see how the directors develop a plan to move the story along swiftly in such a small space and with several significant scene changes.

Perhaps the largest geographic scene change is traveling from the
New York City train station to Sweet Apple, OH, during “A Healthy, Normal, American Boy”.

In this instance, the larger cast works by splitting up the towns-
people roles, and with assistance from costuming and the projections from set design, the scene goes halfway across the country in mere seconds. The transition is smooth enough and it works.

Tina and Tabitha also find a few instances to put in a little extra charm and comical work. Following “Honestly Sincere”, the use of complete silence is smart and amusing as Rose crosses a plethora of fainted townspeople. The movement of Albert’s telephone booth during “Baby, Talk to Me” is another example of finding hidden moments to add a little corniness (as much as I love the sweetness of that song).

The ever-changing, versatile walls and ground floor of the stage are given a sleek black and blue makeover with Tina Barrus’ set design. The retro patterns remind me of old 50s and 60s television screens which would be fitting for the era and content of the show. Aside from one rotating panel, the entire set is continually constructed and deconstructed using wooden crates painted in an array of yellows, blues and pinks splattered with more paint. Barrus crafted chair backs and other furniture pieces into and on to the back of the crates, creating more ways to utilize each piece. The rotating panel is used for the majority of the show as a blank canvas upon which specific backgrounds are projected such the train stations and the MacAfee home. The movement of the set pieces is its own ballet.

Cameron Barrus’ light design is intricate and requires timing that must be matched by the actors during certain songs. “The Telephone Hour” is the most complicated musical number due to the amount of featured vocals. The other challenge for Barrus is working with Josh Leblo’s height and keeping his face and other surrounding actors out of his shadow such as in Albert and Rose’s opening scene.

Costumes by Kara Barnes are less poodle skirts and saddle shoes and more flattering skirts and blouses for the women. The choice to go against such a strong stereotype as I’ve seen previously with other Bye, Bye Birdie productions is surprising but it works in the show’s favor.

There’s more character definition for each female role through their costuming and Barnes also creates a noticeable difference between the residents of New York and Sweet Apple. Specific characters keep their signature looks, such as Mae Peterson’s oversized fur coat and Conrad Birdie’s cuffed jeans, white tee and coiffed hair.

In her debut as Choreographer for Plaza’s production, Faith Brown is tasked with a long list of scenes to showcase her dancers and make the actors look good while moving. From tap to swing, she does a commendable job working with the large cast and featuring her experienced performers. The opening scene gives a good look at how Brown is proficient at making twenty to thirty teenagers appear in synch. While most of the cast are actors who can move rather than dancers who can act, Brown doesn’t complicate the choreography any more than needed especially in the bigger group numbers, even though there are still a few stragglers.

The big tap number of the show, “Put on a Happy Face”, begins with Albert and two young girls, played by Eden Barrus and Emma Whitehorn, who are both exceptionally strong tappers. Their performance, which later includes David Midkiff, is just one highlight of the show. Josh Leblo holds his own even though it feels out of place at one point to have him lying on the ground with the teens. The choreography for the number is accomplished and the teen dance corps give a clean, crisp performance.

“Honestly Sincere” is the largest dance number of the show and Brown does not hold back from utilizing every inch of space or rotating dancers to showcase some partnering work.

In Act II, “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” isn’t as big a dance number as expected but the performers are pared down to the dance corps.

Finally, Brown’s choreography for “Rosie”, Albert and Rose’s final duet, is charming, quaint and fits their scene perfectly.

Bye, Bye Birdie is a toe-tapping, head-bopping kind of musical … and that’s just what you’ll see from the audience. Not only will Plaza Theatre Company make you forget all about the hot, Texas heat but they’ll show you a rockin’ good time.