Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Bye Bye Birdie"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2005 by Tony Annicone

"Bye Bye Birdie"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Fiddlehead Theatre Company's final show of their 11th season is "Bye Bye Birdie" which opened on Broadway on April 14, 1960 and ran for 607 performances. The show is set in the 1950's and is based on Elvis Presley's induction into the army. In the show Conrad Birdie, the rock 'n' roll idol is drafted and comes to a small town to give a girl "One Last Kiss" before he enters the service. Co-directors Pam Shapiro and Gary Poholek provide topnotch direction and recreate the nostalgia of America in the 1950's with one of the best renditions of this show that I have ever seen. From sets to period costumes this show sparkles and shines from start to finish with the multitalented 37 member cast. Pam's fantastic choreography and Sandy Peasley's musical direction add to the enjoyment of this show while stage manager Ben Bartolone keeps the sets moving on an off stage with ease, keeping this two act musical flowing smoothly from scene to scene. Producing artistic director Meg Fofonoff keeps the production values high with all her shows but this blockbuster is one of the must see shows of this spring season,

The cast is lead by Michael Hammond as Albert Peterson, the songwriter and Conrad Birdie's agent who is fantastic in this role. Michael not only handles the comic aspects of the role with ease but he also shows off his dancing talent in two tap numbers, "Put on a Happy Face" with the teen girls and "Rosie". Michael's singing voice is wonderful to listen as well and his "Baby Talk to Me" is one of the best numbers in the show with the beautiful harmonies of the male quartet, Nathan Fogg, Harley Yanoff, Michael Kostoulakos and Ben Bartolone. Michael makes this mama's boy character funny throughout the show but it is when he stands up to his overbearing mother that the audience really reacts to. Pam Shapiro not only co-directs and choreographs this show but also plays Rosie, Albert's long suffering girlfriend. She handles her many solo numbers beautifully including a sexy dance rendition of "One Boy" ala Mama Rose from "Gypsy" as well as "What Did I Ever See in Him" and the riveting "Spanish Rose" where she finally declares her independence from Albert's insulting mother, Mae Peterson. Pam recreates Gower Champion's choreography for the "Shriner's-Ballet" perfectly. She and the men do an energetic dance while crawling under and over the table as well as around it while throwing the fez's into the air. Her eye to detail is also seen in her dance numbers including the excellent tap dances as well as the rock 'n' roll song "A Lot of Livin" and Birdie's songs, too. I loved Albert and Rosie's three matching costumes in bright yellow, blue and red made by Ellen Poholek. Bravo to both Michael and Pam on a job well done.

Gene Dante plays Conrad Birdie excellently. He brings a great deal of charisma and sex appeal to this role and his first entrance on a motorcycle is a splendid touch to this character. Gene has a fantastic singing voice which he showed off previously as the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast". However in this show he gets to show off his dancing prowess, too. Gene's hip swivel and pelvic thrusts while clad in a gold lame jumpsuit for his first song "Sincere" are hilarious as is his snarling and lip curl during "One Last Kiss". He leads the teen chorus in "A Lotta Livin" where they show off their singing and dancing talents. Even though Gene is a rock singer in real life, his acting ability as this womanizing rock idol stands out and the audience loves when he gets arrested to escape the clutches of his crazed "jailbait" fans. One of the biggest scene stealers in this show is Alice Springer as Mae Peterson. She has the funniest lines in this show and makes every single one of them hit pay dirt. Alice also gets chance to show off her singing voice in "A Mother Doesn't Matter Anymore" where she tells Albert how she has cared for him throughout his whole life, heaping a guilt trip on him. She is clad in a mink coat throughout the evening and drives the audience into hysterics with her wacky antics, winning her applause on her gangbuster entrances and exits. An outstanding performance.

Jen Segawa plays Kim Macafee who is to be kissed by Conrad before he is inducted into the army. She has a glorious soprano voice which soars in the funny "How Lovely to Be a Woman" where she changes into a teenager's top and jeans, making the lyrics ironic, the pretty ballad, "One Boy" where she sings of her love for Hugo but swoons at the mention of Conrad's name and "What Did I Ever See in Him", the duet with Rosie. Jen's acting and dancing are perfect for this part, too. Another huge scene stealer is Ray O'Hare as Harry Macafee. His slow burns, facial expressions and line delivery's are excellent. His hamming it up during the live TV number and mugging for the TV camera are hilarious. Ray also sings the lead in "Ed Sullivan" and "Kids" numbers. Jen Mischley plays his worried wife, Doris beautifully, getting to sing and dance up a storm in this show. (Congrats to Jen and her husband, Kevin on their own baby due in September.) Fourth grader, Ben Hirsh plays kid brother, Randolph who gets a chance to show off his strong singing voice in the reprise of "Kids" does a great acting job in this role, too. The four of them backed by the chorus shine in the Ed Sullivan song which has one of the best harmonies in the show.

Other scene stealers include Harley Yanoff as Hugo, Kat Aberle as Ursula, Samantha brior-jones as Gloria Rasputin and Chris Iredale as Harvey Johnson. Harley plays Kim jilted boyfriend and has some funny moments trying to get drunk and punching Birdie during the Tv show. Kat is hysterical as the loudmouth cheerleader who welcomes Conrad to town by leading "We Love You, Conrad". She is a human dynamo as Ursula. Samantha plays Gloria, the vixen that Mae hires to woo Albert away from Rosie. She is a gorgeous statuesque brunette who brings the house down while doing a dance routine and a split while Mae hums Swanee River. Chris is a hoot as the nerdy Harvey who sings in a high pitched voice during the outstanding chorus number "The Telephone Hour" and does a fabulous job with his funny dancing, too. ( I loved Pauline Rockwell's fainting scene especially her pantie girdle.) So for a trip down memory lane, back to the carefree 1950's be sure to catch this version of "Bye Bye Birdie" before it is too late. All the roles are cast very well in this show so you will not be disappointed.

"Bye Bye Birdie" (8 - 17 April)
FIDDLEHEAD THEATRE
109 Central Street, NORWOOD MA
1 (781)762-4060

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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