BWW Review: We Love You Conrad: MSMT's Stylish Revival of BYE BYE BIRDIE

BWW Review: We Love You Conrad: MSMT's Stylish Revival of BYE BYE BIRDIE

It has been fifty-eight years since the Tony-award-winning Michael Stewart/Charles Crouse/Lee Adams musical Bye Bye Birdie first opened on Broadway, and while the topicality of the material is no longer au courant, still this fresh, charming Maine State Music Theatre revival, directed/choreographed by Raymond Marc Dumont, retains its humor, humanity, and universality.

The book by Michael Stewart is a light-hearted parody of Elvis Presley's induction into the Army, yet the characters have an everyman appeal that colors their often silly situations with a heart-warming innocence. Then, too, there is the lustrous score by Charles Crouse (lyrics by Lee Adams)with unforgettable tunes like "Put On a Happy face," "One Boy," "Baby Talk to Me," and "Lot of Livin'" that keeps the heart singing.

Raymond Marc Dumont directs and choreographs with a deft and loving touch. He moves the action fluidly and captures both the scale and authenticity of the small town milieu; his choreography is artful and witty while maintaining an appropriate scale. He helps the cast shape vivid characters who experience age-old conflicts. There is a freshness, a feeling of old-fashioned sweetness that is never saccharine.

Music Director Curtis Reynolds and the four-person orchestra shape the score with melodic grace and maintain a pleasing vocal -instrumental balance. Making clever use of the décor from the current main stage production, including the turntable, Props Designer Michael Bracey and Lighting Designer Annalise Caudle transform the gray, gritty look of Saturday Night Fever into a sunny, pastel-hued world. Cee-Cee Swalling's costumes with Gerard James Kelly's wigs complete the picture with fifties silhouettes, soft fabrics, and the occasional glitter for Conrad Birdie or Spanish Rose. Nate Dickson delivers his customary expert soundscape, while Stage Manager Domingo Mancuello (Assistant Stage Manager Mickey Acton) keep the production flowing smoothly on course.

The casting is one of the production's strengths; Dumont is to be commended not only for playing to the strengths of his actors, but also for the creative way he uses the diversity of the company. The actors excel in creating individualized characters, who, despite their stereotypical attributes, never become cartoons. Caleb James Grochalski makes an endearing Albert Peterson, infuriatingly immature and yet hopelessly winning. His sense of comic timing is sure, and he is a lanky, lithe dancer who knows how to deliver a song like "Put on a Happy Face" with insouciant charm. Elisabeth Christie makes her Rose Alvarez the perfect foil - smart, savvy, spunky. She knows how to interpret the dramatic content of a song and mines her material for Rose's many moods. There is real chemistry between her and Grochalski that keeps the audience invested in their romance and smiling happily at the final number "Rosie." Alec Duffy Talbott makes for a smug, sexy, narcissistic Conrad Birdie, who captures perfectly the gyrating body language of this character inspired by Elvis Presley. He swaggers and swings, rocks and swivels with feline grace, and he delivers his big numbers, "Honestly Sincere" and "A Lot of Livin' To Do" with real charisma. As Kim MacAfee, Lauren McDonald brings a lovely soprano and luminous, wide-eyed innocence to the role. She projects a touching wholesome innocence that gives the story its foundation.

Glenn Anderson as her disgruntled father, Harry MacAfee, Nakesha 'Kay' Warren as her gentle mother Doris, and Declan Kelley as her brother Randolph turn in one of the shows best comic moments in "Kids." Michael Olaribigbe is delightful as Kim's boyfriend Hugo Peabody, giving him a teddy bear sweetness and using his remarkably agile physical presence to create some hilarious moments, especially in his drunken scenes in act two. Cathy Matero plays Mae Peterson to the hilt, demonstrating a fine sense of comic timing and bringing down the house in "A Mother Doesn't Matter Anymore."

The ensemble, as townsfolk and assorted other characters, each has a moment. Stevie Ann Mack is deliciously silly as the squealing Ursula and a fine dance partner for Albert in "Put on a Funny Face." Jake Hartmann makes Harvey Johnson sweetly nerdy; Melaina Corey Rairamo has fun with the contrasting cameos of Gloria Rasputin and Nancy; Ben Walker-Dubay makes an amusing mayor, and Miles Obrey contributes his radiant tenor to "Baby Talk to Me." Holly Hinchliffe (Helen), Siobhan Kelley (Alice), Veronica Druchniak (Margie Ann), Andrew Carney (Freddie), Jacob Sutherland (Charles Maude), Jenny Brown, Rebeckah Perry, and Brian Pelletier round out the ensemble with strong contributions.

Coming on the heels of the gritty Saturday Night Fever, Bye Bye Birdie not only speaks to the range, versatility, and breadth of talent of the company, but also offers a breath of fresh air and a welcome journey to a simpler time when goodness, innocence, and purity were valued aspirations. Judging by the cheering audiences at both performances, the message and the memories contained in this classic of musical theatre remain perennial.

Photograph courtesy of MSMT, Mary Catherine Frantz, photographer

Bye Bye Birdie played two performances at MSMT's Pickard Theatre as part of the Monday Concert Series on July 30, 2018. The third and final event in the series is The Best of MSMT 60th Anniversary Concert on August 13, 2018. www.msmt.org 207-72



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From This Author Carla Maria Verdino-S├╝llwold

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