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Bye Bye Birdie – Broadway Musical Review 

 

BYE BYE AND GOOD RIDDANCE

 

picture - Bye Bye BirdieTheater Review

by Cindy Pierre

published October 25, 2009

 

Bye Bye Birdie

now playing on Broadway at Henry Miller’s Theatre

through April 25, 2010

 

When considering a production of Bye Bye Birdie, a show by Michael Stewart and Charles Strouse that was originally conceived as a “happy teenage musical with a difference,” the terms “euphoria” or “mania” typically come to mind.  Roundabout Theatre Company's presentation of it takes great strides to achieve these conditions, but the end result feels like pretense with very little payoff. 

 

The musical looks promising when agent and songwriter Albert Peterson (John Stamos), our neurotic and fidgety protagonist, glides in on a theatrical conveyor belt.  Andrew Jackness' set pieces are positioned with some razzle dazzle, and it appears that the story about an ambitious man's last ditch effort to achieve success before changing to a lower-key profession will maintain our attention.  But something snooze-worthy this way comes as the musical devolves into garish effort after garish effort to make us happy.  Instead we are forced to ask: where is the joy?

 

“Joy” tries to come in the form of cocky rock stars, cute children, rainbow-hued prop pieces, and color-coordinated pastel costumes, but what these elements do is uncover the dots to the strategy.  Nolan Gerard Funk amuses as Conrad Birdie, an Elvis Presley/Conway Twitty fusion reminiscent of Fonzie (from Happy Days, no less), but he's not enough to drum up the enthusiasm that we're supposed to feel for numbers like “Honestly Sincere” and “One Last Kiss.” 

 

Despite thin solo voices, the Fan Club Girls collapse into sweet-sounding harmonies that replicate what swooning is supposed to be like. Even Robert Longbottom's choreography has some flips and goofy kicks that may make you smile.  Though Brynn Williams sparkles as Ursula and physical comedian Bill Irwin shines as Mr. MacAfee, there's nothing flashier than Gregg Barnes' costumes.  Every time the cast convenes on stage for a scene or musical number, it's as if a fistful of Skittles is released into your view, making you hunger for a snack instead of what's to come.

 

If you're familiar with Gina Gershon's work, you will expect her to pop as Rose Alvarez, Albert's sexy Hispanic assistant and girlfriend.  Delayed semi-gratification may transpire with “Spanish Rose,” a song delivered confidently with comic exaggeration, but it's too little, too late.  There's a twinkle in her eye as she shimmies and shakes, but none of the spice that's usually associated with her portrayals.

 

If Bye Bye Birdie is meant to be a satire of American society and it's obsession with stardom, it  accomplishes that.  What it does not do is uplift us in the manner that Lee Adams' lyrics are supposed to with popular songs like “Put on a Happy Face” and “How Lovely to be a Woman” while doing so.  We may be saying farewell to a celebrity and the magic that he wields by the plot's conclusion, but we never really say hello to the magic of the production as patrons.

 

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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