The storyline of Bye Bye Birdie is a parody of real-life gyrating super star Elvis Presley being drafted into the army at a time when rock and roll was fast changing the world of music.
Angela Bayler (Managing Director) and Trista Duval (Artistic Director) welcomed the Sunday afternoon crowd to Bye Bye Birdie. They were so much more relaxed than they were at the start of the CenterStage season. My buddy, Denny, sitting next to me, said “Oh, they’re good.” It’s true. Angela and Trista bantered and thanked and recognized various people and then went through the plays for next season. The two took over after long-time CenterStage icon Alan Bryce retired. After a successful run, they are now out of his shadow and doing well.
I brought three guests to Bye Bye Birdie. They didn’t know what to expect. I had expectations, but I had never liked the movie. The play was funny. Really funny. The singing and dancing were extremely enjoyable. My youngest sister loves Elvis Presley and has almost all of his movies. She wasn’t even born when he was drafted in 1958. All four of us had a great time.
The characters and the plot center on the eight-year romance of Rose Alvarez (Lara Mcleod) and Albert Peterson (Joshua Banks). Albert owns the personal contract of musical hero Conrad Birdie. Rose is Albert’s secretary. She may be his right-hand man, but she’s more interested in her left-hand, where she dreams of wearing a wedding ring. She wants Albert to find the gumption to tell his mother about their love and their future together. She would like Albert to quit “the business” and get a job as an English teacher. My wife and I first saw Joshua as Prince Caspian in the “panto” Rapunzel at CenterStage. He has a nice voice and does humor well. This was my first time seeing Lara. She did a very nice job on all counts. She has degrees from Carnegie Mellon University in both Vocal Performance and Professional Writing. She did a lively job going over the top as a sarcastic South American, man-hungry non-entity facing up to Mother Peterson.
The chorus of “professional” fans did a great job dancing and singing “We Love You Conrad!” even though they fell thousands short of singing it ten thousand times.
There’s nothing the matter with kids today . . . Here is (left to right) Dean Marshall, a seventh grader, Donovan Mahannah playing a high school senior, Harrison Gomes as the teenage nerd Harvey Johnson, and eleven year-old Nigel Kelly. I saw Nigel in the Lakewood Playhouse production of Peter & The Starcatcher last year.
Special mention goes to the pompadour of Duncan Clark Menzies for his character Conrad Birdie. Although in the fifties it would have probably been coated with Wildroot Cream Oil, it bounced and hung down naturally. Duncan did a great job of sneering and flouncing around self-importantly as benefits a young teenager’s idol.
Extra credit should be given to Sam Barker for his Ed Sullivan worshiping characterization of Mr. MacAfee. He has an excellent voice. I’ve seen him in two different pantos. He’s funny and not too bad a dancer. Lily Johnson did a great job in the ensemble. She moves well and has a very friendly smile. Jasmyne Mendoza played fourteen well, yearning for One Last Kiss. Jessica Lorenz did well in the ensemble and was outstanding as the gum chewing secretary selected by Mother Peterson for her son as a replacement and rival of Rose. Mother Peterson was over-played (a good thing . . . an extremely good thing) by Diana Trotter. She’s new to the Seattle area, but should show up more and more on local stages.
There were sixteen youth ensemble/internships in this production. They worked behind the scenes and on stage. They did an excellent job as did the other members of the ensemble and cast. After the curtain closed one of the local student interns stepped out and thanked the audience and shared his joy of involvement. He had danced and sang. He beamed when he spoke. Several interns collected donations for the rewarding learning experience at the exits. They were gladly given.
The four person band: Jeff Bell, David Lane, William Bryant, and Jack Reed played extremely well. We only saw them as shadows on the scrim. The director Erin Murray, Music Director Jeff Bell, and Jimmy Shields, Choreographer, as well as the other members of the production team put together a wonderfully funny production to end the season.
The play runs thru June 16th. Catch it if you can. Bring friends and laugh.
Although CenterStage is officially located in Federal Way, we think of it as being Northeast Tacoma. After watching the play, the four of us walk around the building to enjoy the parklike setting just above Dumas Bay. The view is of Vashon Island. We admired the tree sculpture of eagles. As we wandered the grounds, we looked back at the theater just as an eagle soared above the sculpture (see the insert). What a great way to end the day . . . with a Bye Bye Birdie.
Visit CenterStage for more information and tickets – centerstagetheatre.com/