When Elvis Presley was drafted into the army in 1957, America’s girldom went insane.
Michael Stewart took to his typewriter to write the book, Lee Adams took rhyming dictionary in hand to work on the lyrics and Charles Strouse hit the piano keyboard to give Broadway their fictionalized hypothesis of that faithful event – they came up with “Bye Bye Birdie.”
Tacoma Little Theatre put out the net and caught the “Birdie” for its current production.
This teeny bopper show brings back the gentle, easier, more tranquil days of the ‘50s with great rock-n-roll music, catchy lyrics and your average screaming, squealing, ranting post-bobby-soxers.
In a nutshell, Conrad Birdie, young America’s hip-twirling heartthrob, has been drafted. Albert, whose mother wants him to be a song writer but he wants be an English teacher, is pushed into action by Rosie (his lady-love) to write a “good-bye” song for the soon-to-be inductee (“One Last Kiss”), which he is to plant on a randomly chosen, unsuspecting teen, Kim, who just started going steady with Hugo. Kim’s small town of Sweet Apple, Ohio, is all a-twitter with the coming event which is promised to be televised on The Ed Sullivan show.
Kim is eager for the kiss, Hugo is angry about the kiss, Albert is anxious things will go right, Rosie is hopeful this will placate Mama, Kim’s parents are outraged at the way the kids act about Conrad – until Mr. MacAfee finds out he will be on the Ed Sullivan Show, the adult citizenry falls for Conrad, Conrad is fed up with the whole thing – and – the audience has a ball!
Chris Serface, TLT’s Managing Artistic Director, takes on the task of directing this bevy of 30 talented performers, all of whom are periodically on the boards at the same time. He moves them about the stage and overcomes the hurdle of the literally dozens of set changes without them bumping into one another. This is hard job with a script which demands so many different locations but Serface does it expertly.
Terry O’Hara does the musical direction and conducts the four-piece orchestra with O’Hara on keyboard; Blane Gosselin, trumpet; Bill Golterman guitar; and Peter Tietjen on percussions. It is not obvious where the music makers are hidden but their sound comes through to the audience with no problem; however, sometimes it overshadows the singers.
This should prove less of a problem in the future; TLT is the proud new owner of a wireless miked sound system which still had a few bugs on preview night.
Elizabeth Richmond Posluns is the Choreographer. Her dance numbers are somewhat dated and predictable but they work for this show and the dancers appear to perform them easily.
Blake R. York gives the audience a set design of multiple colorful blocks to provide various levels for the many, many different locations this show demands. These are augmented by a myriad of set pieces carried on and off stage by willing cast members; it works well.
Special kudos to Stage Manager Kris Garrett – it’s quite a chore to handle such a large cast and so many changes; she pulls it off without a hitch.
The cast has many newcomers to TLT; several are Tacoma Musical Playhouse transplants. This is understandable because Serface was Education Director at TMP before taking over at TLT.
The 20-member ensemble doubles and triples in brass to do various minor roles.
The Female Ensemble consists of Olivia Barry as Deborah Sue; Veronica Bauer, the youngest member of the cast, hold her own as Phyllis; the multi-talented Molly Callender has additional roles as a Reporter and Stage Manager; Courtney Colley, who is the Dance Captain, is also a Reporter and Suzie; Rachel McLaughlin as Helen; Lark Orvick-Moore as Mrs. Merkle; Abigail Webster as Penelope Ann; the groovy Aya Hashiguchi as the Mayor’s Wife; and Rachel Roewer as Alice.
Specialty numbers include Emma Deloye as Margie along with Ellie Johnson as Nancy – they play Sad Girls who do a very nice dance special with Albert. Shelleigh Ferguson does a bang-up job of a solo tap dance with a surprise ending.
All of the Female Ensemble does very nice work. The biggest stand-out is Roewer who seems to make her presence on stage known as soon as she steps on the boards. Her smile is constant and she sells all the songs and dance; very nice job for a youthful young lady.
The Male Ensemble features equally able talent, including Ron Bauer, making his stage début, as a Policeman; Cameron Brown who plays some mean riffs as Guitar Man and is a Shriner; Chris Campbell as Harvey Johnson; Brian Loughbridge as Freddie; John Morgenstern as Karl; Paul Parker as the Mayor and a Shriner; John P. Saunders as Maude, the bar-keep and a Shriner; and Steven Walker as Arthur and a Shriner. Here the notables are Campbell with his cracking voice and Walker who plays his Shriner to the hilt.
All the ensemble actors furnish good back-up for the 10 principal actors.
Donovan A. Muirhead Jr. is Randolph MacAfee, the younger brother of our ingénue; Carrie Sleeper-Bowers is her mother, Doris MacAfee; Jeffery Weaver does a wonderful job as Harry MacAfee, the patriarch of the family; which brings to the Melissa Maricich as the lovely, lucky girl upon whom that “One Last Kiss” is to be planted. Steven Wells is Hugo Peabody, her true love (except for Conrad); and Erin O’Loughlin has a couple of nice moments as her best friend Ursula Merkle.
DuWayne Anderson, Jr. is our rock-n-roll hero, Conrad Birdie. His gentle gyrations are a scene stealer as is his pompous attitude.
Steve Barnett is the typical Mama’s Boy, Albert Peterson, our adult hero – as opposed to the teen-type hero; he struts and sings his way about the stage until he finally grows up and tells Mama where to get off – literally.
Ashley Ortenzo plays Rose Alvarez with a smile on her face and an aching in her heart for Albert, her wimp of a love; Ortenzo has a good voice and is quite agile dancing about the stage in the several numbers she has.
Diane Lee Bozzo almost stops the show as Mae Peterson, Albert’s omnipresent Mama. Bozzo plays her as a cross between Edith Bunker, Fred Sanford and Mama Rose from “Gypsy”; very nice work.
“Bye Bye Birdie” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through June 1 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays.
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
Make that trip to TLT to see this delightful musical – get your reservations quickly before you have to say “Bye-bye” to “Bye Bye Birdie.”