note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
There were a few good reasons for seeing timeworn musical, “Bye Bye Birdie,” at Waltham’s Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, which ended July 22 - namely, the incomparable, indomitable, indefatigable, timeless Anita Gillette, and bombshell Carman Napier.
Gillette’s portrayal as smothering, guilt-imposing mother, Mae Peterson, by far, makes all Jewish mothers pale by comparison. She punctuates every line, every gesture, with gevalt, making her 33-year-old spineless son, Albert, (Jacob Sherburne) cringe and crumble under her clinging claws and pseudo-suffering. Several times, Gillette drew belly laughs with her antics, while Napier as Rose Alvarez, Albert’s 8-year fiancee and long-suffering secretary, superbly bore the brunt of Mae’s stinging criticism.
Like Gillette, Napier tackled her role with bluster, pizzazz, and finely-tuned comedic timing, especially with her sensuous, tipsy shenanigans, flirting and dancing with the Sweet Apple, Ohio Men’s Club. After Napier’s sultry solo, “Spanish Rose,” under the deft direction and choreography of award winner Larry Sousa, the all-male ensemble danced, jumped, cartwheeled, and performed other awesome acrobatics with Napier in their hilarious number, “Shriner’s Ballet” .
Music Director Dan Rodriguez and Conductor Jeffrey P. Leonard and their fantastic musicians admirably struck up the band, as theatergoers enjoyed show favorites “Kids,” “Put on a Happy Face,” “A Lot of Livin‘ to Do,” and other songs.
That said, handsome Ryan Overberg, who set female hormones surging in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s “Xanadu,” is disappointing as teen singing hero, Conrad Birdie, an Elvis Presley parodic clone. Overberg, a talented singer and dancer, appeared to be going through the motions rather than sweeping the teenage girls of Sweet Apple and the audience’s older female fans off their feet.
Overberg’s role is key. He’s the sub-plot character, based on when gyrating teen icon Elvis Presley was inducted into the Army and chose to fulfill his military service instead of dodging it. Presley’s vacancy from the spotlight sent ponytailed teen-aged girls into mourning, especially when his high-piled ducktailed tresses were cropped close.
In Michael Stewart, Charles Strouse and Lee Adams’ 1960, multi-award winning musical, set in 1958, teen-age icon Conrad Birdie has been inducted into the Army, too. As a publicity stunt, Rose devises a plan to send Birdie to Sweet Apple, and kiss one of his fans, 15-year-old Kim McAfee, goodbye on the popular Ed Sullivan TV Variety Show. Hoping the stunt will earn a fortune, Rose is promoting Birdie’s latest release, “One Last Kiss,” which she wrote for the occasion.
Rose has her own plans. She wants Albert to kiss the publicity business goodbye, finish college, marry her, become the English teacher he wants to be, and settle down together. However, Albert’s mother, Mae, who started the company with her now-deceased husband, refuses to let Albert fold the business and lead his own life, especially with Hispanic Rose.
All hell breaks loose in Sweet Apple. Birdie’s fans become overstimulated, and gangly teen Hugo Peterson punches Birdie on TV, when Birdie’s about to kiss Kim, Peterson’s steady girlfriend, (nicely played by Gillian Gordon). Everyone, including Kim’s mother, Doris, (Linda Lodi), father Harry (Brad Walters), and younger brother Randolph (Josh Sussman) gets into the act. Matt Phillips as crackly-voiced, nerdy Hugo, is riotous, but we wonder why pretty Kim would even date him. And why would snazzy Rose want to marry schmendrik Albert? Despite snafus, shortcomings, and misunderstandings, love triumphs, and the large cast brought “Bye, Bye Birdie” to a rollicking finale.