Theater Preview: 'Bye Bye Birdie' director is no stranger to the production

The classic musical "Bye Bye Birdie," inspired by the frenzy created when Elvis Presley received a draft notice into the Army in 1957, is opening this weekend at the Glendale Centre Theatre.

Set in 1958, "Bye Bye Birdie" centers around a songwriter's struggle to create one final hit song for his star performer, Conrad Birdie, before he loses his client to the Army.

The production is directed by Todd Nielsen, with Robert Pieranunzi in the lead role of Albert Peterson, alongside Collette Peters as his secretary and sweetheart Rose "Rosie" Alvarez.

"I'm very excited to work on a piece that I also grew up with as a kid," Nielsen said. "It's very delightful. It's really very fun."

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This will be Nielsen's first time directing "Bye Bye Birdie," but he has directed several productions at the Glendale Centre Theatre since 2001, including "Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure."

The theater has in-the-round seating, where audience members encircle the stage.

"It makes it very fun for the audience ... It kind of puts the play right in your lap," Nielsen said. "You want to be sure that the audience gets equal time in terms of visually and verbally understanding the show."

Nielsen has two projects in the works after "Bye Bye Birdie" wraps: the one-woman play "The Belle of Amherst," based on the life of poet Emily Dickinson, and Meridith Willson's "The Music Man."

Pieranunzi is no stranger to "Bye Bye Birdie," having previously played love interest Hugo Peabody. He said he sees many similarities between himself and Peterson.

"Albert's whole journey is really about his passion versus his practicality," Pieranunzi said. "[The character] enters the complexities of trying to appease your family, falling for the girl you love but still trying to do right by mother."

Performances will be at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays as well as a 3 p.m. matinee performance on Saturdays through April 1. There are also performances on select Thursdays and Sundays.

For more information, visit glendalecentretheatre.com.

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Jeff Landa, jeff.landa@latimes.com

Twitter: @JeffLanda

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