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Bye Bye Birdie opens Friday at Emma Kelly Theater at 7:30 p.m.
Bye Bye Birdie photo
Statesboro's Russ Lanier, above, will play Don Birdie in the play "Bye Bye Birdie," which opens Friday at the Averitt Center. - photo by Special
    About 45 years ago, Statesboro resident Don Lanier portrayed the character Conrad Birdie in the very first off-Broadway performance of the play “Bye Bye Birdie,” a spoof of Elvis Presley’s being drafted in the midst of his musical career.
    Friday, the late Don Lanier’s younger brother Russ Lanier will perform the same role as his brother in 1962 when the Tony Phillips production of the Broadway musical will open at the Emma Kelly Theater.
    The first showing is Friday at 7:30 p.m., with  two showings Saturday — 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., he said.
    Tickets are available at the Averitt Arts Center at (912) 212-ARTS (2787).
    Participating in the play is an honor, Russ Lanier said.
    Back in 1962, “Statesboro was chosen as the first location for the play to be run off Broadway,” he said. “I was not even born yet.”
    The cast members have been rehearsing nine weeks, said producer Tony Phillips. “This play is truly a musical comedy. The script is so hilarious and some of the antics are nothing short of amazing. It is going to be very funny.”
    Set in the 1950s, “Bye Bye Birdie” is a satirical view of the frenzy Elvis Presley caused and the reaction from fans when he was drafted into the United States Army.
    Local citizens from school-age children to senior citizens will portray a variety of characters as the play unfolds, centering around the town and family of Conrad Birdie, who represents Presley in the spoof.
    Phillips has high praise for his cast.
    “This is one of the hardest working casts I have ever been involved with,” he said. “They tossed aside personal engagements and really buckled down and they shaped it up into a nice production.”
    The dedication of the cast members was exemplified when one member attended several rehearsals on crutches and another was confined to a wheelchair for a time, he said.
    “They were a tough and committed bunch. They knew the show must go on so they pushed through the pain and made it happen,” he said. “I am so proud.”
    The play is also unique in that it features a 15 -piece orchestra instead of recorded music, he said.
    Many local citizens who held parts in the 1963 performance at Statesboro High School will be in the audience — and at least one will be on stage, Lanier said.
    “Helen Redding will play a lead role as Kim McAfee,” he said.
    The play’s Statesboro history is unique and the fact he is playing the role his brother did so many years ago is special.
    “I think it has drawn some interest,” he said. “Things that go around come around.”
    He was precast in  the role not only due to his brother’s performance but “I’ve done a lot of Elvis shows in the past,” he said. “I wish (his brother Don) was here to see it.”
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