Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Theater Review: Bye Bye Birdie -- Goodspeed

The cast of Bye Bye Birdie. Photo: Diane Sobolewski
Audiences Put on a Happy Face Watching Refreshed Birdie
By Lauren Yarger
If you ever have walked out of a production of Bye Bye Birdie and wondered why you didn’t hear the song of that title, you won’t have that issue at Goodspeed’s production.

Director Jenn Thompson has given the stage production a few new twists, including adding the song from the 1963 film (which wasn’t in the stage production) as well as “A Mother Doesn’t Matter Anymore” from the 1995 television presentation as well as new dance arrangements by David Krane. The result is not your mother’s Birdie, which is a relief for those of us who have seen in multiple times from local high school and community theater productions to Broadway (which was pretty disappointing in its last revival in 2009.)

That’s because it is pretty hard to make a musical set in 1958 and conceived in response to Elvis Presley being drafted into the Army relevant 50-plus years later. The new dance arrangements, choreographed by Patti Wilcox are fun and the addition of the mother’s song gives Kristine Zbornik, who already is stealing the show as manipulative mother Mae Peterson, a chance to bring down the house. The changes give the show a needed lift.

Still in place are familiar tunes by Charles Strouse with Lyrics by Lee Adams like “Put On a Happy Face,” “One Boy,” “Kids” and “A Lot of Livin’ To Do.”

The story (book by Michael Stewart) follows a couple of romances. First there is Albert Peterson (George Merrick), who manages teen heartthrob and rock star Conrad Birdie (Rhett Guter) who has been drafted. His assistant, Rosie (Janet Dacal), comes up with a publicity stunt idea to have the idol travel to Sweet Apple, Ohio to kiss the president of his fan club goodbye. Once he’s on his way, Rosie wants Albert to quit the business, become an English teacher and settle down for a simple life. The aforementioned Mrs. Peterson isn’t making that easy, however, and she objects to Rosie, making numerous references to her Hispanic roots. Without those constant references and a dance number in which she becomes a new personality – Spanish Rose – I am not sure any of us would realize she was supposed to be Latina…..

Meanwhile, fan club President Kim MacAfee (Tristen Buettel) can hardly believe that Conrad Birdie himself is coming to kiss her! Neither can her parents (Donna English and a funny Warren Kelley) and little brother Randolph (Ben Stone-Zelman, who is over-the-top-adorable in his 1960s haircut and clothes). Costumes are by David Toser; Hair and Wig Design by Mark Adam Rampmeyer. The whole clan ends up on Ed Sullivan!

One person not happy about the excitement is Kim’s boyfriend, Hugo (Alex Walton). After all, he and Kim just got pinned. Why is she kissing another guy?

You get the drift of the plot. Thompson uses lots of action up and down the house aisles to make the audience feel a part of the action. The orchestra, with Goodspeed vets Michael O’Flaherty music directing and Dan DeLange providing orchestrations, can be a bit overwhelming at times, especially the horns, and drown out the singers.

Overall it’s a fun, breezy trip down memory lane that puts a happy face on a lot of audience members.

Birdie has been given ectended wings to fly at Goodspeed, 6 Main St., East Haddam, through Sept. 8. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Thursday at 7:30 pm. (with select performances at 2 pm), Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm (with select performances at 6:30 pm. Tickets $39-$84 (860) 873-8668;

Additional cast:
Dorcas Leung…. Ursula
Paul Aguirre…. Mayor
Lauren Fijol…. Gloria
Branch Woodman…. Maude
Hannah Bradley…. Margie
Emily Applebaum…. Nancy
Kristen Hoagland…. Helen
Jake Swain…. Harvey Johnson
Logan Scott Mitchell…. Kari
Eddie Olmo II…. Freddie
Michael James…. Roger
Hannah Bradley, Jeremiah Ginn, Brittany Nicholas, Marci Reid, Austen Danielle Bohmer, Michal Kolaczkowski…. Ensemble

Additional credits:
Set Design by Tobin Ost, Lighting Design by Philip RosenbergSound Design by Jay Hilton,

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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