Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bye Bye Birdie

‘BYE BYE BIRDIE,’ dated, but still fun at Porthouse

The original Broadway production of ’BYE, BYE BIRDIE,” which is now being staged at Porthouse Theatre, ran 607 performances and won the Tony for best musical of 1960. It starred Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera and Paul Lynde. The script’s popular 1963 film featured Van Dyke , Maureen Stapleton, Janet Leigh and Lynde.

The Michael Stewart (book), Charles Strouse (music), Lee Adams (lyrics) traces the adventures and misdeeds of what happens when a theatrical agent (Albert Peterson) arranges for his client, rock star (Conrad Birdie), who has been drafted into the army, to come to Sweetwater, Ohio, to give one last kiss to the president of his local fan club (Kim McAfee) before he leaves for the service. Complications set in when Kim's frustrated father ,and her beau (Hugo), place stumbling blocks in the way of the public relations gimmick. Peterson’s possessive mother and his longtime girl friend (Rosie), who are in a constant battle for Peterson’s affection, add to the delight.

Notable songs in the score, which is credited with being the first Broadway musical to recognize the rock ‘n roll craze, are: “Put on a Happy Face,” “A Lot of Livin' to Do,” Talk to Me,” and ”Kids.”

The original production was credited with being “filled with a kind of affectionate freshness,” and “clever cultural references.” Not any longer. As I left the theatre two tweens, who had come to the production with their parents, were overhead saying, “I didn’t understand a lot of things.” No wonder. The times have changed, the media has changed, attitudes have changed and what might have been fresh in the 1960s is stale today.

When ‘BYE BYE BIRDIE’ opened on Broadway, Ed Sullivan’s variety show was the king of Sunday night TV, Elvis Presley had been drafted into the army, getting pinned was the “in” high school relational activity, Mussolini was still known as the former leader of Italy, and “The Shadow” was on the radio.

In spite of the datedness of the script, the Porthouse production was fun filled. Director Terri Kent paced the show well. John Crawford’s choreography was not only clever, but he had talented and enthusiastic dancers who could do the many synchronized moves with ease and flair. Though, at times, the music dragged a little, the words could be clearly heard over the muted orchestra. A wonderful blended quartet was one of the musical highlights.

The cast, with one major exception was excellent. Though she started the show screaming, Sandra Emerick, settled down and was delightful as Rose Alvarez. Her song interpretations were excellent and her “Spanish” fire burned brightly. Nick Koesters, who is noted as one of the area’s best actors, has developed a wonderful singing voice and style, and though at times he could have hammed it up a little more, he made an excellent Albert. His “Put on a Happy Face” was delightful. Cassie Rea, who has a younger Ann Margaret look, has a fine singing voice and was a sweet Kim. Marc Moritz, was hysterically funny as Mr. MacAfee. Danny Lindenberger, he of slight body and high pitched voice, was character right as Hugo. Lissy Gulick was obviously the crowd favorite as the passive aggressive Mae Peterson.

Unfortunately, Dan Grgic was miscast as Conrad. He didn’t have the attitude, the body, the steely look, the hip movements, the compelling voice or the sensuality for the role. Not that he didn’t try, but his Conrad didn’t engender the needed quality to make girls swoon. He was not helped by wearing poorly fitting and designed costumes that didn’t’ help the characterization.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Porthouse’s ‘BYE BYE BIRDIE,’ though dated, is still fun. With slightly different casting it could have been even more endearing. And so, the 42nd season of KSU summer theatre comes to a close.