BWW Reviews: Cabrillo Brings Back BYE BYE BIRDIE
Bye Bye Birdie/book by Michael Stewart/music by Charles Strouse; lyrics by Lee Adams/directed by Lewis Wilkenfeld/choreographed by John Charron/Cabrillo Music Theatre, Thousand Oaks/through July 27 only
Ah, the rhythms of the 50s/60s! Got "A Lot of Livin' to Do"! Lee Adams and Charles Strouse wrote the music and lyrics of Bye Bye Birdie to honor a generation of fans who swooned and literally gave themselves over to the rock and roll of Elvis Presley. Conrad Birdie (Austin MacPhee) is an obvious play on Conway Twitty, a rock star of that era who later became a superstar in the world of country. When Elvis went into the army, he became a national hero. Female teens adored him and would give up their own boyfriends just to be near him. This is Bye Bye Birdie in a nutshell now in a rollicking revival at Cabrillo Music Theatre through July 27.
To relive this time period may bring back the angst of what it was like to go through puberty, but the aftereffects are nothing short of joyous. Silly antics, fads and rebellious behavior all in the name of love and romance! There are the adults in the story who fret about "Kids" and on the other side are the youngsters who fret about...well, just about everything that affects finding their place in a world that seems too authoritative and hostile. Kim McAfee (Noelle Marion) goes out with Hugo Peabody (Harrison Meloeny) who is insanely jealous when she wins a contest whereby singing idol Conrad Birdie will come to Sweetapple, Ohio to give her "One Last Kiss" before departing for military duty. PR Man Albert Peterson (Zach Ford), in charge of the event, has his own problems with his love interest, Rosie Alvarez (Michelle Marmolejo), who wants him to leave the business and settle down as an English teacher in a happily married lifestyle. Albert is lorded over by his mama Mae (Celeste Russi) who does not approve of Rosie. In fact, she's downright racist. (Slurs that were overlooked in the innocent 50s would never be tolerated in 2014!) Then there's the McAfees Harry and Doris (Jim J. Bullock, Farley Cadena) who are losing control over Kim, yet cannot resist the allure of going live on "The Ed Sullivan Show". Amazing what effect pop culture/TV once had on our lives. We would do almost anything to escape a boring humdrum existence. On the other side of the coin there's Conrad Birdie, who, in spite of his rock and roll stardom, only wants to have fun "A Lot of Livin' To Do" before submitting to the draft. Living for the moment cannot bring lifelong happiness but it sure creates memories.
And that's what Bye Bye Birdie does as a musical. It creates some of the silliest, yet priceless memories of living the American way of life ... in another era. Under Lewis Wilkenfeld's upbeat direction and with John Charron's zippy choreography, the entire cast are having a ball. Opening night got off to a rather slow start, creating some lags in Act I, but Act II just soared. Ford is fun to watch, creating the very difficult role of complex Albert P. Marmolejo dances beautifully and is especially effective in "Shriner Ballet". Marion has a simply lovely voice: "How Lovely To Be a Woman". Jim J. Bullock has his finest hour as Harry MacAfee, giving his dad, like Paul Lynde did, a neurotic but lovable thrust. So great to see him working onstage again! Conrad Birdie, for me, as written, is an Elvis man in voice, looks and body movements, and as fine a performer as he is, I found MacPhee less than ideal at filling the bill. Meloeny is terrific as Hugo, as is Micah Meyers as little Randolph MacAfee. The entire chorus are fabulous, especially the teenage girls screaming their way into our hearts.
If you loved growing up during this period, then you will love Bye Bye Birdie. It's a whole lot of fun and you should not miss Cabrillo's earnest production with close to 60 cast and crew involved, including teen, adult and children's choruses. This may be one of the biggest regional Birdie companies ever! Go out and support this wonderful theatrical company that really are in need of your donations to keep next season going forward! Support them!
(photo credit: Ed Krieger)