University Theatre at N.C. State will present New Zealand playwright Ken Duncum's prize-winning 1990 play, Blue Sky Boys, April 3-13 in Thompson Theatre. NCSU Department of Communication instructor Jon Pheloung, a New Zealand native, will direct this highly entertaining story about one unforgettable night in the mid-1960s when rock-and-roll history was made.
On the night in question, the Everly Brothers performed a selection of their greatest hits — including "Cathy's Clown," "Wake Up, Little Susie," and "When Will I Be Loved" — during a concert in Wellington, New Zealand, while the Beatles played a gig across town. Beatlemania was at its height, the British invasion of the American airwaves was under way, and pioneer U.S. rock-and-roll groups, such as the Everly Brothers, had to battle for airplay and concert bookings.
Blue Sky Boys won the 1990 award for best New Zealand play. "I saw this play produced in 1990 in Wellington, New Zealand," recalls director Jon Pheloung. "[Blue Sky Boys] combines the fun and energy of a rock performance with the intimacy and focus on character of theater. It's a great show for young audiences who might believe theater is a stuffy or old-fashioned form of entertainment."
Pheloung adds, "I wanted to connect my experiences growing up in New Zealand with my working life in the United States. This play is about the impact of American pop culture (here in the form of the Everly Brothers) on the New Zealand consciousness.
"The play covers several hours on the evening of an Everly Brothers concert in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1964," explains Pheloung. "The Beatles are playing a show across town on the same evening. Two young Beatles fans invade the Everlys' dressing room hoping for a chance to meet the Beatles. The pressures of declining fame and rampant Beatlemania drive the brothers to the brink of splitting up their act, and one brother to the verge of suicide."
Jon Pheloung says, "[Blue Sky Boys] begins with several songs performed live on stage by Don (Francis Arthur Sarnie IV) and Phil (Jeramy Blackford) Everly, accompanied by young Kiwi drummer-for-hire Carl (Reid Beaver) and introduced by local promoter Pete Fontaine (Benjamin Kraudel). Two schoolgirl Beatles fans, Fran (Katie Flaherty) and Jillian (Kate Isley), rush the stage and hide in the dressing room, hoping for an opportunity to join the Everlys' after-show visit to the Beatles."
Staging this New Zealand hit for American audiences presents considerable challenges for director Jon Pheloung and his production staff, which includes scenic and lighting designer Terri L. Janney, costume designer Ida Bostian, and sound designer David Jensen.
"We had two major challenges," claims Pheloung. "One, to make sure a script written by a New Zealand author (Ken Duncum) for New Zealand audiences was comprehensible to an American audience. Two, to find actors capable of performing convincingly as two of the greatest harmony singers in the history of popular music."
Pheloung notes, "The set operates in two modes. One, as the onstage area of Wellington's Buffalo Hall. On this stage, the Everlys perform a total of 11 of their hits throughout the performance. Two, as the dank and draughty dressing room of the same hall, reflecting the state of their career in 1964.
"The lighting vividly contrasts the glamour of the brothers' onstage demeanor with the stark and unhappy realities of their offstage lives," Pheloung says. "The costumes show the point where the Fifties began to give way to the culture of the Sixties. In New Zealand, this happened later than in the U.S., so all of the characters are garbed in the clothing of the late Fifties."
Jon Pheloung cautions, "[Blue Sky Boys] deals with adult situations in an unflinching way. Situations involving sexuality, drug addiction, and attempted suicide are an intrinsic part of this drama. Blue Sky Boys takes a close look at the unofficial lives of rock stars, at their weaknesses, egos, frustrations, and obsessions. But it also presents the glory of creativity and talent in full bloom."
University Theatre at N.C. State presents Blue Sky Boys Thursday-Saturday, April 3-5, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, April 6, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, April 9-12, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 13, at 3 p.m. at NCSU's Thompson Theatre, Raleigh, North Carolina. $14 ($6 NCSU students and $12 seniors, students, and NCSU faculty and staff). 919/515-1100. http://www.fis.ncsu.edu/University_Players/bluesky.htm [inactive 9/03].