Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Theatre-by-theSea's second show of their 68th season is "Bye Bye Birdie" which is set in the 1950's and is based on Elvis Presley's induction into the army. Frank Anzalone directs his 24 member cast with great insight and a firm hand in this fun filled show of the past. He makes the nostalgia of America in the carefree 1950's come shining through with the period costumes, inspiring dances by Pam Pariseau and wonderful musical direction by Jim Ryan. The sets are moved on and off with ease, making this two act musical flow smoothly from scene to scene.
The cast is led by Christopher Sutton as Albert Peterson, the songwriter and agent of Conrad Birdie. Christopher is superb, although he has a leading man's looks, he plays the comic aspect of Albert perfectly. (Not imitating Dick Van Dyke at all.) Chris' fantastic baritone voice is shown to its fullness in the gorgeous ballad "Talk to Me". (He sells this song to the audience while singing it into a phone.) Also an accomplished dancer, he makes his hat move from his head and around the stage while trying to cheer up two sad girls in "Put on a Happy Face" and dances a soft shoe in the song "Rosie". Chris' acting is wonderful throughout the show and the audience cheers when he finally stands up to his overbearing mother. This Barrymore award winning actor gives new insights into this character and keeps the audience rooting for him to win the girl at the end of the show. (In real life, Christopher is married to fellow performer, Gillian Burke. She plays the role of Gloria Rasputin, the bubbleheaded blonde tapdancing secretary, Albert's mother hires to break up Albert and Rosie's relationship. Gillian plays the dippy Gloria beautifully and her trying to stand up after doing a split is very funny.) Great work by this talented couple.
Jill Powell plays Rosie, Albert's long suffering girlfriend. She is best known for playing Marcy on "As The World Turns" and in a multitude of television commercials.Jill's forte in this show is her strong dancing ability. Her energetic dance moves in the "Shriner's Ballet" while she has 7 men chasing her is one of the comic moments of the evening. Jill's best number is "Spanish Rose" where she declares her independence from Mae Peterson. The choreography by Pam Pariseau stands out in this song and Jill's execution of the moves is splendid. Jill is also very moving in her "One Guy" number where she yearns to be loved by Albert. She is a whirling dervish always in constant motion as Rosie.
Ryan Williams plays Conrad Birdie perfectly. This 25 year old actor brings a great deal of charisma and sex appeal to this role. Ryan's imitations of Elvis' movements from the hip swivel to the pelvic thrusts to the butt movements are hilarious. This kid not only dances wonderfully, he has a strong singing voice to go with it. Ryan watched "Jailhouse Rock" to find out how Elvis moved but he makes Conrad come alive through his own natural ability. His first entrance in a tight white pants and jacket with red tee shirt sets the character up for the crowd with him not uttering a word. Ryan's numbers include "Sincere" (placing the wire of the mike in strategic positions) while wearing a gold lame jumpsuit, "One Last Kiss", while wearing a blue satin jumpsuit and the powerful duet "A Lotta Livin' To Do", while in a tight black pants and tee shirt. The latter number shows off Ryan's dancing ability to the rock and roll number. He plays the part of rock star to the hilt but shows his comic side when the town girls pursue this womanizer in the title song. The tables are turned on Conrad and Ryan's facial expressions and movements convey this humorously. A very talented young man who is destined to go places in show business. Ryan will be appearing in "Hair" once he returns to NYC but don't miss him as one of the best Birdie's at Matunuck.
Another dominating presence in this show is Lorraine Serabian as Mae Peterson. She has the funniest lines and she makes everyone of them hit pay dirt. Lorraine is a comic gem and she makes her gangbuster entrances count. She is clad a a mink coat throughout the evening and drives the audience into hysterics when she sticks her head into the oven, dumps herself into a garbage can and lays herself on the railroad tracks. Lorraine is an excellent character actress who gives 100% of herself in this show. She is a talent you should not miss! Catch her in this outstanding role of the overbearing, Jewish mother, Mae Peterson.
Lynette Knapp plays Kim MacAfee who is to be kissed by Conrad before he is inducted into the army. She has a beautiful soprano voice which soars in the funny "How Lovely to Be a Woman" (she changes into a teenage girl's outfit during it making the song ironic) and the pretty ballad, "One Boy" (where she professes her love for Hugo but swoons over Conrad) The other members of her family are played by Don Stitt as Harry, her father, Suellen Estey as Doris, her mother and sixth grade student, Colin Taggart as Randolph, her brother. Don and Suellen are funny as the worried parents and do an excellent Charleston during"Kids". Colin sings the reprise of the song showing talent comes in all diferent ages. The four of them backed by the chorus shine in the Ed Sullivan song which has the best harmony in the show.
Other scene stealers include Chris Kauffmann as Hugo and Sarah Stiles as Ursula. Chris enters in a hooded pullover which he uses to cover his face during "One Boy". From this strong entrance this young man keeps the comedy and energy going constantly. His punching of Conrad and his drunken scene are other standouts. (he has a beautiful tenor voice which he shows off in the cabaret in "Somewhere") Sarah is a human dynamo in this show from the "Conrad Song" to the strong belting, "Bye Bye Birdie" number while chasing Conrad around the stage, she is another performer to keep your eye on.
Rounding out the cast are Tony Wichowski (a superb character actor with a great voice) Suzannah Taylor, Naomi Schick, Paul Ashley, Sara Braslow, James Carroll,(the cabaret emcee with a powerful singing voice) Tommy Iafrate, Vanessa McMahan, Robert Spring, Nick Pamik, Natalie Weld, John Raterman(who has a magnificient tenor voice which he uses in the cabaret singing the difficult Sondheim song, "There Are Giants in the Sky" and he sells his other song, "Big News" with high intensity) and last but not least Charly Seamon, a feisty cute redhead who belts out a bluesy song, "Another Mr. Right" in the cabaret.
A word of praise to the technical people, Cheryl De Wardener for the set including great scrims and the two story house, Tom Sturge for the lighting, Walter Trarbach for the sound and the wonderful 50's costumes by Gail Cooper-Hecht. (The matching sleeping ensemble for the three MacAfees was a hoot!) So for a fun filled night of entertainment call the box office to see "Bye Bye Birdie" before the tickets disappear. Tell them Tony sent you.