As MacAfee, his big numbers are "Kids," a father's lament, and "Ed Sullivan," a hymn to a television icon of earlier times.
Donahue and a young company of about 25 actors have been on the road since Jan. 16. They have about two and a half months left on a tour that will stop in 75 cities in about 35 states and Canada and wrap up in Hawaii, according to Jerry Lonn, executive producer for Encore Attractions, the company producing "Bye Bye Birdie."
The troupe has managed to avoid serious seasonal sickness in spite of traveling in a bus that's like a petri dish, Donahue said. They perform six to eight shows a week. "We really get up for it every night," he said.
The experience of performing before a live audience is different from what Donahue was used to in films and television. There was no feedback from crews on a movie sound stage, he said. Now he gets instant gratification from audiences who are with him in the theater.
This time around it's not film and cut, film and cut, Donahue said. There's only one chance to perform for each audience. At first, he wanted to go back and do it again. But he said he realizes that no performance ever is going to be perfect.
Donahue had high praise for his fellow players, most of whom are professionally trained young actors from Southern California. He said they've taught him a lot. "These kids just are wonderful," he said.
Is there any irony in casting Donahue, the movie star whose name has become a permanent part of entertainment culture, to the point of being included in songs in two long-running Broadway shows, "Grease" and "A Chorus Line"?
Donahue acknowledged that references to his earlier existence are woven into the show. And audience response has been fun. "They scream for Conrad Birdie in the show. They scream for me after the show," he said. "I do get a big kick out of that."
Now 62, father of two, grandfather of four with one great-grandchild, Donahue lives in California between Santa Monica and San Francisco. He's not really pursuing a career anymore, although he said he dreamed up a job for himself a couple of years ago conducting film seminars aboard Holland America Cruises.
Donahue said he might do another road show. "I don't really plan," he said.
"Fifteen years ago, I got sober. The miracle is my sobriety," he said. He's learned to live his life one day at a time.
Performing in "Bye Bye Birdie" has become a life experience, Donahue said.
He's having a wonderful time, and he wants his fans to come out and see a wonderful show.
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