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Review: BYE BYE BIRDIE at Palm Canyon Theatre

PALM CANYON THEATRE PUTS ON A HAPPY FACE IN A NOSTALGIC ROMP THROUGH JULY 14

By: Jul. 08, 2024
Review: BYE BYE BIRDIE at Palm Canyon Theatre  Image
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What is it about 1950’s era nostalgia? Poodle skirts, bobby socks, and the birth of the old demon, Rock N’ Roll, have transfixed American audiences for the last half-century.  The silver screen’s romance with “the good old days” made its mark in the 1970s with “American Graffiti” and its later TV spin-offs “Happy Days” & “Laverne and Shirley” (we try not to remember “Joanie Loves Chachi”).  “Grease” of course is the quintessential baby boomer balm, with both the film and the stage musical on continual playback ad nauseum.  “Bye Bye Birdie” however lead this pack of mid-century schmaltz when it hit Broadway in 1960 with the venerable Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera (with a follow-up film version in 1963 where Rivera reprised her role with Peter Marshall).  A comedic musical revisit of Elvis Presley’s iconic draft into the US Army in 1958, “Birdie” reflects on a small town “simpler” Americana where you don’t have to lock your doors at night and the biggest concern is the stray rock and roll hooligan rolling into town riling the kids up.

Set in the same year as when “The King” reported for his military service (1958), “Bye Bye Birdie” follows the exploits of floundering talent agent Albert Peterson, played by weary aplomb by Jonathan Brett.  And who wouldn’t be exhausted hemmed in between his whip-smart secretary jockeying for a status upgrade, Rose Alvarez, played with fire by Dani Jara Lesaca, and his mother of all martyrdom mamas, Mae Paterson, played to hilarious fatalism by Jo Beth Henry.  His sole big client, the hunka hunka burning stud, Conrad Birdie (portrayed here by the swiveling everything of Joshua Rach) is reporting for his country’s service but wants to go out with a bit of a bang.  Or, a kiss on the lips of his most ardent teenage fan. Now, as I write that, I am fully aware there is a little cringe factor to the concept.  But, context….folks…context.  So, Albert and Rose conduct Birdie to the epitome of Middle America - Sweet Apple, Ohio to the waiting lips of Birdie Fan #1, Kim MacAfee, played with wistful innocence by Jacki Doyle-Padgett.

Review: BYE BYE BIRDIE at Palm Canyon Theatre  Image
PHOTO BY SONNY VON CLEVELAND

Director Derik Shopinski understood what was needed.  Never taking itself too seriously and keeping the fun element firmly in the spotlight, Mr. Shopinski’s direction flowed seamlessly.  Choreographer Se Layne kept the dance moves fun and energetic.   Musical Director Chuck Peery had the ensemble sounding strong and the leads elevated.  JW Layne’s set was effective which avoiding being cumbersome.  Special kudos to Projection Designer Nick Edwards for using projected light effects as much for painting the sets as they were for portraying various locales of the story with incredible ease.  The “Mod” inspired window cut-outs on the flanking walls of the set were doubly effective with the projection color play. Doing double duty as Resident Costume Designer, Mr. Shopinski and his team knew their time period and kept the plot accessible and believable in universe.

Protagonist Albert Peterson is equal parts carnival barker and brow-beaten momma’s boy. Jonathan Brett’s portrayal embodied both sides, energetically but not over the top.  He had good chemistry with Ms. Lasaca’s fierier Rose, but his scenes with “Ma” were some of the funniest in the show.  Ms. Henry’s portrayal of the put-upon manipulative Jewish mother put Momma Rose to shame.  Every time she made an entrance, your mind goes, “Oh No!  What is she going to do next?”.  She was comedy gold and stole every scene she was in (as she should!).  You could literally see Mr. Brett physically shrink every time he gets lambasted by Momma Mae.  Rose Alvarez’s best scenes were seen when taking control of her own life, particularly with the Maude Quartet and with Kim singing “What did I Ever See In Him?”.  Mr. Rach’s Conrad Birdie pumps in the “bad boy” image of the King of pseudo Rock N Roll, with lots of hip gyrating and that devil may care sneer, yet I noticed a bit of conflict in his persona vs his real character life.  Things that remind the viewer that Conrad is just a kid himself, which allowed a third dimension to what was written a bit two dimensionally.  The ‘All American Family” who is lucky (?) enough to play host to rock god Birdie are the MacAfees:  Ward Cleaver wannabe Harry MacAfee played with bewildered charm by Tim Steele, Mother knows best Doris played with cheerful power by Michele Davis, starry-eyed “woman of the world” (at only 15!) Kim and junior boy who nobody listens to, Randolph, played with a rascally twinkle by Desmond Seiders.  Their big number “Kids!” is the anthem of every parent.  Ms. Doyle-Padgett’s portrayal of Kim is a work both innocently naïve and someone with a growing sense of self through the course of the play.  With a lovely soprano, she sounded every bit the girl next door.  Her first “steady” boyfriend (and the core of her self-endowed womanly wisdom) is Hugo Peabody, played with nerdishly awkward grace (is that an oxymoron?) is Jackson Enzler.  A boy trying to be a man at an age where one has no clue what that looks like, Peabody is a study in conflict.  Possessive because he is supposed to be (he thinks), he has a hard time staying out of his own way.  Not an easy thing to play and not become a caricature, Mr. Enzler does a good job in making him approachable and pitiable.  The unmistakable teen girl refrain of “We Love you Conrad, oh yes we do!” echoed through the theatre on the vocals of Taylor Dibble, Taylor Graham and Jessica Lenz.  It was every bit the “Elvis mania” it should be.  Special shout out to Mrs. Mayor, Edna, played by Olga Morales, who didn’t get a word of dialogue but who was always an enthusiastic part of the Conrad club, sometimes having to be dragged out.  Nice touch!

Review: BYE BYE BIRDIE at Palm Canyon Theatre  Image
PHOTO BY SONNY VON CLEVELAND

With an ensemble of another 20 performers who fleshed out the little town of Green Apple, too many to properly name here, the dance and vocal corps here kept the songs hummable and the dance toe tappable.  Special kudos to the whole cast who gave it their all after a 124-degree day under scalding lights.  We see you!

“Bye Bye Birdie” has one more weekend in its run, Thursdays at 7:00p.m., Fridays and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m through Sunday, July 14, 2024. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.palmcanyontheatre.net or by calling (760) 323-5123.

Palm Canyon Theatre’s 2024-25 season tickets go on sale July 21st!

Review: BYE BYE BIRDIE at Palm Canyon Theatre  Image




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