Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Bye Bye Birdie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey

"Birdie" Takes Wing at Reagle

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

Bob Eagle's record is intact. His Reagle Players deliver yet another hit musical for this summer. In the past the Eagle magic has turned a clunky Broadway vehicle like "The Will Rogers Follies" (whose national tour was a disaster) into a charming, nostalgic triumph. This summer Reagle energizes a revival of "Bye Bye Birdie", transforming it into a delightful, ditsy romp. The Red Sox could learn a trick or two from Eagle about turning things around.

Eagle and Broadway veteran Dennnis Daniels (who also choreographed) recreate those innocent days of yesteryear when women cheerfully tolerated wolf whistles, a time when teaching outranked rock 'n' roll in the prestige department. (NOT the '50s I remember!)

Michael Stewart's book for "Bye Bye Birdie" was inspired by Elvis' draft card, which came up in 1958. Conrad Birdie is the rock star being drafted here, although Charles Strouse/Lee Adams' music owes more to the American musical idiom than it does to rock. Clever songs like "Put on A Happy Face"..."I've Got A Lot of Livin' To Do"...and "Kids, What's The Matter With Kids Today" get dazzling choreography, spiffy technicolor costumes, and some sparkling performances to punch them up.

Kirby Ward (so wonderful in "Showboat" last summer) returns to Reagle, this time as the pied piper who can coax a dozen teenaged girls out of their funk (with a spectacular locomotive tap number for Jennifer Turey and chorus) and a kiss out of his beloved Rose. (Rose evidently thinks there's no future in rock 'n' roll, bless her heart.) Nancy Hess gives a luminous performance as Ward's determined girlfriend. Hess dances Daniels' inspired choreography in a duet with some luggage, and it's one of the show's highlights! She shows her funny bone in a hilarious rough-and-tumble ballet with some hapless Shriners.

Whimsical touches, like the whole Norman Tabernacle Choir joining in on the Ed Sullivan anthem...and Robert Mackintosh's sweet apple green reversible jackets for the Birdie Fan Club make this version of the musical a cut above other revivals.

Fine playing from Paul Katz' orchestra and terrific singing from Randall Patterson as Birdie, spunky performances from Siobhaun Maus, Aurelie McCarthy and Matt Shea, and delicious cameos from Jerry Godfrey, Dan Bolton, R. Glenn Mitchell, Nathan Croner and Tim McShea make this "Birdie" warble.

"Bye Bye Birdie"
Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide