BWW Review: Mill Town Players' BYE BYE BIRDIE Will Make You Put on a Happy Face
It's hard to fully appreciate, today, Elvis Presley's impact on American society. And when this living symbol of teenage rebellion was inducted into the Army, it was a major media event.
The 1960 musical comedy Bye Bye Birdie (which launched the career of Dick Van Dyke) took the bare bones of that situation and spun it into a classic slice of late-1950's Americana, now playing in a rousing new production by Pelzer, S.C.'s Mill Town Players.
Conrad Birdie (Drake King) is the Elvis-like rock star who's been drafted. His high-strung manager, Albert Peterson (Mark Wiles), fears this move will ruin both of their careers. But Albert's secretary and paramour, Rose (Meredith Woodard), concocts the idea of staging a televised event for Conrad, in which the star will give "one last kiss" to a randomly chosen small-town fan - 15-year old Kim McAfee (Meris Privette) - before leaving on the train for boot camp. Maybe then Albert will finally stand up to his overbearing mother (Kelly Wallace), marry Rose, and become a respectable English teacher.
Director Reed Halvorson put together a terrific team to bring this slice of nostalgia to life. From the moment you first see the stage, you are awash in the atmosphere of the late 1950's, thanks to designer Kim Granner's colorful set and Sissy Beck's period costumes. Musical director Tim St. Clair keeps the enthusiastic cast singing with nice balance and energy. And choreographer Kimberlee Ferreira keeps the ensemble moving with some snappy and impressive dancing. The opening Telephone Hour number, for instance, was simply terrific, but so were the more intimate songs, such as the enchanting dance duet between Albert and a sad Conrad Birdie fan (Katie Malone) in "Put On A Happy Face."
As Albert, Mark Wiles captures the character's anxious comic bewilderment while also demonstrating some nice dance chops. Similarly, Meredith Woodard makes a great Rose, full of assertive determination and a nice full voice. She also gets in a lot of dance time, impressing especially in the comical "Shriner's Ballet."
Drake King is all swagger and attitude as Conrad Birdie, with an occasional hint that the character doesn't fully understand his own impact. Kelly Wallace is wonderful as Mae, Albert's "woe is me" motheR. Wallace is a gifted actress and shows again her expert comic timing. Hilarious, too, is Rod McClendon as Kim McAfee's concerned father Harry. His reactions are fantastic as are his songs, in particular that great comic number, "Kids!"
Other standouts include Jenna Gilmer as Kim's overenthusiastic friend Ursula, Alex Robinson as Kim's put-upon boyfriend, Hugo, and Erin Gill as a young woman named Gloria who demonstrates some, uh, unique qualifications for the job of Albert's new secretary.
Best of all, though, is Meris Privette as Kim. Along with her sparkling presence, she demonstrates an amazing voice that absolutely nails every number she sings, and her high energy and young Ann-Margret verve are perfect for the role. Privette is an absolute gem.
Director Reed Halvorson keeps the show light and comic, letting his terrific ensemble work their magic. Let's face it: Mill Town's Bye Bye Birdie is guaranteed to make you put on a happy face.
Bye Bye Birdie runs through August 6 at the Mill Town Players in Historic Pelzer Auditorium, 214 Lebby Street, Pelzer, SC. For tickets and showtimes visit www.milltownplayers.org or call the box office at (864)947-8000.
Photos - Escobar Photography