BWW Review: BYE BYE BIRDIE at Moorestown High School Theater
Moorestown High School Theater presents a delightful production of Michael Stewart's Tony Award-winning Broadway smash Bye Bye Birdie- and let me say it -Broadway versions have nothing on this outing directed and choreographed by Erica Scanlon Harr. It is a top-notch blend of technical excellence and sparkle, and reminds audiences why Bye Bye Birdie, which debuted in 1960, remains an enduring musical theater classic. From the colorful costumes and set which capture the 1950's (including hula hoops, vintage TV frames and a formica table and chairs) to the dynamic multi-talented cast and sprightly numbers, this show brings a smile with never a dull moment.
Bye Bye Birdie was originally titled Let's Go Steady and found its inspiration from singing sensation Elvis Presley who was drafted into the Army in 1957. Its success led to a London production, several revivals and a 1963 film starring Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh and Paul Lynde which became a showcase and launching pad for bombshell Ann-Margret who literally bursts onto the screen. The storyline is simple. Agent Albert Peterson finds himself in trouble when his client, rock and roll superstar Conrad Birdie is drafted into the Army. His secretary and longtime girlfriend, Rose "Rosie" Alvarez, comes up with a publicity scheme to have Birdie record and perform a new song called "One Last Kiss." One lucky girl from the Conrad Birdie Fan Club will be chosen to get a real last kiss from Birdie on the Ed Sullivan Show before he goes into the army. The winner turns out to be 15-year-old Kim MacAfee from Sweet Apple, Ohio who has just been "pinned" by her boyfriend Hugo Peabody. Birdie comes to Sweet Apple to the consternation of parents and the ecstatic joy of teenage girls. Meanwhile, Rose wants Albert to make a commitment, but his overbearing mother Mrs. Mae Peterson arrives to break up the relationship.
Harr's Birdie does justice to the snappy, funny dialogue and equally snappy tunes like "Put on a Happy Face" and the iconic "The Telephone Hour." The entire cast shines from the leads to the wonderful ensemble of talented teen dancers and singers. Birdie also is an apt spoof of the deification of pop cultural icons, as exemplified in a scene in the MacAfee kitchen. All the objections Mr. and Mrs. MacAfee have that their daughter will be kissed on live television melt away when they learn they, too, will also be on The Ed Sullivan Show. Their rhapsodic eulogy to Sullivan is fittingly called "Hymn for a Sunday Evening."
Tierney Howard is sensational as Rosie. She is sweet, spunky and sexy with a phenomenal voice and stage presence, and the contrast of her fire and sass with staid, Mama's boy Albert Peterson (the equally good Griffin O'Neill) makes them a perfect couple. They have all the chemistry that their film counterparts, Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh (although each top-notch talents in their own right), lacked. The interplay between Rosie and Albert's disapproving mother Mae Peterson (more on her later) is a delight.
Nicholas Williams as Conrad Birdie has the right blend of suavity and cool arrogance with a mellow Doo Wap voice, its tone echoing Elvis. He's also very funny at the right times. It's interesting to note that while Presley was the real deal with raw animal magnetism and above-average musical talents, the character of Conrad Birdie in stage and film versions seems more a superficial media creation, vain and interested in scoring chicks rather than the trappings of fame. It's a perfect satirical dig at the essential sham nature of teen idols.
Sofia Giannetto as Kim MacAfee has a beautiful voice and is endearing as the lucky President of the Conrad Birdie Fan Club, a girl torn between childhood and womanhood. Jack Mattiaci, a 5th grader at Moorestown's Upper Elementary School, is adorable as Kim's kid brother Randolph and can really sing. Comic relief is also given by some delicious bit characters, including Anna Rozelle as Gloria Rasputin, a brassy blonde aspiring actress in gold lame pants, who Mrs. Peterson tries to palm off on Albert (As she does a terrible split: "For the movies, they can always cut away while they jack her up"); Rocco Ruccolo as Hugo Peabody, Kim's squeaky-voiced "steady"; and Justin McAllister as Harvey Johnson, the only male member and current captain of the MHS Dance Squad and Step Team.
But the showstopper, as Paul Lynde (playing Mr. MacAfee) was in the original Broadway play and 1963 film version, is Ann Comegno as Mrs. Mae Peterson. With her stooped posture, sensible shoes and housedresses, bemoaning her bunions and her son's attraction to Rosie, she is hilarious, creating the ultimate overbearing mother. All she has to do is walk onstage to have people chuckling. Her spot-on delivery of lyrics and dialogue is priceless. As she sings when Albert tries to assert himself, "Now a mother doesn't matter anymore. That's it, I'm ready to go and I don't want you to spend a cent. Fancy funerals are for rich people. Just wrap me in a flag and throw me in the river on mother's day." She steals every scene she's in, even without saying a word.
In all, Moorestown High School Theater's bright and tuneful production of Bye Bye Birdie is a treat for the entire family, chock-full of charm and talent, and a celebration of teen madness. Cowabunga!
Bye Bye Birdie played February 28, 29 & March 5, 6, 7 at 7 pm at the
Moorestown High School Auditorium.
Photo credits: Marilyn Scanlon