Theatre Review- Bye Bye Birdie
In the summer of ’67, Songwriter Paul McCartney wrote these lyrics – “You say goodbye and I say hello-Hello Hello- I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello”. During this current Summer of ’16 I wholeheartedly invite you dear readers to say “Hello”- hello hello to The Goodspeed, Connecticut’s premier musical theater, and their absolutely inspired production of ‘the 60’s Tony Award Winning hit – “Bye Bye Birdie”! Yes- Say hello to an unforgettable outing of high kicking poodle skirted dancers, blue suede shoe wearing singers and a host of charismatic, gyra-matic, hydromatic actors, why its “greased lightnin” (ahem) – it’s “Bye Bye Birdie”- and its a “Blast”!!
From the get go let me state- this production is NOT based on the 1963 “forgettable” movie version starring Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh and centered on showcasing the many “talents” of rising star Ann-Margaret. There is no pill popping turtles, no Russian ballet, nor does it include TV Legend Ed Sullivan- well in voice only! This is “Bye Bye Birdie” the 1960 “far out fab” Broadway musical version which also starred Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera and in this present guise- showcases the many talents of rising star Janet Dacal- (she’s absolutely wonderful!) and does include the song “Bye Bye Birdie” written for the ’63 film- got all that? Good!!
For all you “Bye Bye Birdie” newbies- the whale of the tale goes like this – the musical set in ’58 and originally titled “Let’s Go Steady” gets its “McGuffin” from the time when “The King of Rock and Roll- Elvis “The Pelvis” Presley was drafted into the US Army. In fact the name, “Conrad Birdie” is based on one of Elvis’s rivals, Conway Twitty- I tawt I taw a Tweedy Bird! Originally produced by Edward Padula with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Lee Adams and book by Michael Stewart – is indeed the tale of an Elvis-esqe Rock & Roller leaving for the military and his effect on a group of teenyboppers who have “a lot of Livin’ to do” in the uncomplicated hamlet of Sweet Apple, Ohio.
Albert Peterson, (George Merrick) Conrad’s manager, who once dreamt of becoming an “English Teacher” is in trouble – mighty big trouble, with a capital T and that rhymes with B and that stands for Birdie- he’s Drafted! But leave it to Rose “Rosie” Alvarez – Albert’s secretary and long-suffering girlfriend to come up with the answer- a last-ditch publicity stunt- have Albert write a hit song for Birdie, “One Last Kiss”, and have Birdie (Rhett Guter) sing it to one symbolic, All- American, atypical girl- Kim MacAfee (Tristen Buettell) on coast to coast television – The Ed Sullivan show and give her one real last kiss- so what could go wrong?
Now why see this musical? What’s so good about it you ask? Everything! Firstly, Kudos to Director Jenn Thompson, Choreographer Patricia Wilcox and scenic Designer Tobin Ost- for setting the outstanding sights, sounds and feel of “Birdie”! The Goodspeed stage transformed to the “Sweet Apple Civic Auditorium” features multiple 50’s television sets broadcasting vignettes of the era, everything from “Tang”, “Tony the Tiger” and even the “Toast of the Town” – Ed Sullivan. There are several musical productions that are truly brilliant bits of staging most notably, “The Telephone Hour”, where members of the ensemble are actually dancing in the aisles of the theater; the astral blue adorned Heavenly choral performing “Hymn for a Sunday”, and the Act Two showstopper- the high energy ‘Lot of Livin’ to Do”- it brought down the house in applause- simply breathtaking! By the way all the music receives a Howard Hummable Index of 10+, I’m still humming “Put On A Happy Face”.
I mentioned a showcase earlier- one of the reasons to see this production is actress Janet Dacal as “Rose”, she is not just good- she is darn Good! – singer, dancer, actress- a true triple threat – this is her show – and all eyes are on her when ever shes on stage – which is aplenty! I had a bit of trepidation on the selection of Rhett Guter as the military bound “Conrad Birdie” but by Act Two he had me won over-what a high-flying dancer! Warren Kelly is a comedic high point and perfectly cast as the TV dinner eating, put-upon father- Mr. MacAfee. I also want to send “Howard Stars of the Future” nods to both Dorcas Leung as “Ursula” and Ben Stone-Zelman – we noticed and ya did Good- you ALL did good!
“Bye Bye Birdie” as presented by Goodspeed is one of those rare musicals – that right after the current performance you want to get right back in line for the next one while you’re still humming away- yep it’s that kind of show – it’s just that good!!’ I say “Hello Hello” to “Bye Bye Birdie” and so will you! enjoy!
“Bye Bye Birdie” ” will run till September 8th. Curtain times are Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available through the Goodspeed Box Office (860.873.8668), open seven days a week, or on-line at http://www.goodspeed.org.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC.