It’s not perfect, but the Players’ Bye Bye Birdie provides some welcome fun.
By Kay Kipling
No matter how expert you are, you never really know what musicals are going to hold up 40 or 50 years after their debuts. Who would have thought that Bye Bye Birdie, which seemed so firmly rooted in a specific time and place in history—that early 1960s America of youthful hope and optimism—would still be spreading a little cheer our way in today’s more dour universe?
Well, maybe some savants knew it. After all, Birdie does boast some eternally recognizable characters: the squealing teen fans of a posturing rock idol, the concerned, overprotective parents, the mother-dominated nice guy with a long-suffering girlfriend. It also offers a score with some surefire hits, like the enduring Kids, Put On A Happy Face and A Lot of Livin’ To Do, that remain instantly engaging.
For the most part, the Players’ production of Bye Bird Birdie is engaging, too. Director Catherine Randazzo keeps things snappy and mines little bits of humor whenever she can; scenic designer Michael A. Gray and his counterpart, costume designer Paul Lopez, have fun interpreting the upbeat colors and styles of the period; and there are some strong performances on stage along with some kind of so-so ones.
Among the strongest: Trina Rizzo as Kim, the young girl from Sweet Apple, Ohio, upon whom rock star-draftee Conrad Birdie (Matthew Russell, not perfect but surprisingly effective for a first-time performer) will bestow his final kiss before leaving for the Army. That idea is the brainchild of Rosie (Kaylene McCaw, who’s also potent), the aforementioned long-suffering girlfriend, who’s determined to move Birdie along so her boyfriend Albert (Jim Taylor), his manager, can get back to teaching and marry her.
Taylor’s more comfortable singing and dancing than delivering his dialogue, which he tends to do with unnecessary arm gestures. But he’s likable, and his scenes with his guilt-manufacturing mother (Bobbie Burrell) are audience favorites. Other bites to savor: the right-on body language and timing of Chris Keller as Kim’s dweebish boyfriend, Hugo; a comic turn by Shelley Whiteside as Rosie’s would-be replacement, the very outgoing (not to say trampy) Gloria; and the scene where Conrad’s version of Honestly Sincere repeatedly knocks out every female in the vicinity, especially the wife of Sweet Apple’s mayor.
The ensemble of the show has mixed talent and experience, as might be expected, and some are pretty stiff, while others (like Kathleen Abney and Bill Sarazen, as Kim’s parents) seem forced to overreact to everything. But these drawbacks don’t trample too much upon the bright liveliness of Bye Bye Birdie—a welcome piece of nostalgic funsense in a gloomy period of time.
Bye Bye Birdie continues through Nov. 2; call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org for ticket info.