BWW Reviews: Candlelight Pavilion Brings Back the 50s with BYE BYE BIRDIE
Bye Bye Birdie/book by Michael Stewart/music by Charles Strouse; lyrics by Lee Adams/directed by John LaLonde/choreographed by Hector Guerrero/Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre, Claremont/through July 13
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. The name Conrad Birdie (Kevin McDonald) 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 to be in his company. Such is the premise for Bye Bye Birdie now in a fine revival at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre through July 13.
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 (Maggie Anderson) goes out with Hugo Peabody (Austin Michael) 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 (Allen Everman), in charge of the event, has his own problems with his love interest, Rosie Alvarez (Amber-Sky Skipps), 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 (Beth Mendoza) 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 (David Aldrete, Candace Elder) 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 the boring humdrum existence of everyday life. 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 a la Americana ... in another time. Under John LaLonde's bright, upbeat direction and with Hector Guerrero's crisp choreography, the entire cast are having a ball. Everyone is just terrific, with standouts Anderson and Skipps over the moon with their sharp sense of musicality. Skipps is especially dynamite in "Shriner Ballet". Guerrero gives her the steps and she cuts loose. Anderson has a simply lovely voice: "How Lovely To Be a Woman". Mendoza and Aldrete are wonderful fun as the befuddled parents. I have only one disappointment in that LaLonde produced a more contemporary Conrad Birdie. McDonald does not wear a pompadour wig or speak or move like Elvis, as it is usually played. It's a part of the script and should not be compromised.
If you loved the period, then you will love Bye Bye Birdie. It's a whole lot of fun and you should not miss Candlelight's nifty production!
As always, the food and kitchen staff at Candlelight are in top form, offering specialty drinks "One Last Kiss" and "Spanish Rose" during the run of this show through July 13 only!
(photo credit: Kirklyn Robinson)