Sunday, May 4, 2014

theatre review BYE BYE BIRDIE, Desert Stages, April 18

To read my entire review at Talkin' Broadway (excerpts below) of Bye Bye Birdie at Desert Stages Theatre, just click on this link.

"Bye Bye Birdie is a fun and upbeat musical all about the innocence of America in 1960 and the fascination with rock music that was sweeping the country at that time. The musical is based on the time in 1957 when Elvis Presley, at the top of his fame, was drafted into the U.S. Army and gave a woman from the Women's Army Corps "one last kiss" before he shipped off overseas. Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale is presenting the musical as a part of their "Next Stage Theatre" series, which features cast members aged 12-19. The production is fun and upbeat, just like the musical, with some talented kids in the cast and a hilarious performance from director Lisa Barton (the only "over 19" year old in the cast) in a supporting role.  

It's 1960 and rock and roll superstar Conrad Birdie has been drafted into the army. Rosie, the secretary turned girlfriend of Conrad's business manager Albert, comes up with a publicity stunt to send Conrad off in style. Conrad will appear in Sweet Apple, Ohio, where a member of his teenage girl fan club is chosen to receive "One Last Kiss" from Conrad while he sings a new song of the same name, which will be broadcast live on "The Ed Sullivan Show." However, everything doesn't go exactly as planned, especially when Albert's domineering mother Mae hears of Albert's plans to quit the family business and go off, at Rosie's wishes, to become an English teacher.

With a charming score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams and a humorous book by Michael Stewart, Bye Bye Birdie features songs that became well known hits, including "Put on a Happy Face" and "A Lot of Livin' to Do." It also made a star of Dick Van Dyke, who won a Tony for playing the part of Birdie's manager. The show also won the Tony for Best Musical in 1961.

Director Lisa Barton has assembled a fairly capable cast of teenagers for the show. Jacob Emnett demonstrates a charming, yet perfectly frantic side to the mama's boy Albert. Megan Farinella makes Rosie appropriately feisty in her dealings with Albert's mom Mae, but she also shows a lovely and sweet side when it comes to her encounters with Kim, the Sweet Apple teenager enlisted to kiss Conrad goodbye, and Kim's beau Hugo. Jeremy Yampolsky has the gyrating dance moves and voice inflection to instill Conrad with just a hint of Elvis but not so much to make him an Elvis impersonator. The whole cast are excellent actors, giving plenty of thought and feeling to their line readings and their vocal abilities are fine to very good, with Farinella the best of the group. Her second act solo "Spanish Rose" receives a perfect comical delivery with Farinella expertly managing her way around the tricky lyrics.

Barton is a knock out as Mae, the most domineering mother ever. She wrings every comic moment out of every guilt-inducing line she has, and is a force of nature on stage. I also really liked Erin Tarkington's take on Ursula, one of Kim's best friends and fellow Conrad Birdie enthusiast. She has appropriate facial expressions and the right level of excitement in her actions and in her dealings with the other characters to make this supporting character into a very individual person.

Bye Bye Birdie is a classic musical that pokes fun at teenagers and their rock and roll obsession with performers like Elvis Presley. But it also is a show with a lot of heart that celebrates the simple middle-class American values of the early 1960s. It works fairly well for the "Next Stage" series of Desert Stages shows that features cast members aged 12 to 19, since the majority of the characters in Bye Bye Birdie are in fact teenagers. Director Lisa Barton does a nice job in directing a very large cast of teenagers and is exceptional in her portrayal of Mae, the domineering mother from hell.

The Desert Stages production of Bye Bye Birdie runs through May 4, 2014, with performances at 4720 N. Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale. Tickets are available at or by phone at (480) 483-1664.

No comments:

Post a Comment