‘Bye Bye Birdie’ at Prince William Little Theatre by Audrey Thornton

Some people, events, and songs are timeless as in the case of Bye Bye Birdie, a musical based on real life rock and roll superstar Elvis Presley’s 1958 induction into the U.S. Army. A fun production of Bye Bye Birdie is being presented by Prince William Little Theatre, and is a joyful and  family-friendly of the 1960 Tony Award-winning Best Musical complete with sixteen songs performed with cheerful enthusiasm. Bye Bye Birdie is a popular musical satire, with a book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse. It’s frequently produced by high schools, community theatres, and universities.

The cast of 'Bye Bye Birdie.' Photo by David Harback.
The cast of ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’ Photo by David Harback.

The themes that present themselves in Birdie are jealousy, envy, puberty, racist overtones, and parental conflict with teenagers and their older children. All serious subjects, to be sure, but somehow the upbeat songs and dialogue negate or soften such difficult themes, for a few short hours to allow full enjoyment of the humorous dialogue and great music.

Thousands of teen-age girls in Conrad Birdie’s fan club dream of hearing him sing “One Last Kiss” and of being chosen the lucky girl to receive a real “last kiss,” to be broadcast live on The Ed Sullivan Show an it’s Kim McAfee (Megan Griggs) who is chosen. Two of the four songs sung by Griggs – “The Telephone Hour” and “How Lovely to Be a Woman” – are exceptional and humorous. What’s funny is that Kim is only fifteen, hardly a woman, and her insistence that she now call her mother Doris (Danica Shook) by her first name is short-lived. (I will not spoil it by saying why, so please come and see for yourself).

For me, agent and songwriter Albert Peterson (Josh Wilson), scores the highest marks in acting and singing. His performances of “Put on a Happy Face;” “A Healthy, Normal, American Boy;” “Baby Talk to Me;” and “Rosie;” are superb. Of particular note, Holly McDade’s (Rose Alvarez) acting is excellent and her singing on “An English Teacher;” “What Did I Ever See in Him;” and “Spanish Rose” were passionately delivered.

Although Landon Dufrene (Conrad Birdie) started haltingly while singing “Honestly Sincere,” by the time he delivered “One Last Kiss” in Act Two he was singing with star confidence and sailing through his lines. He finished by delivering a joyful “Got A Lot of Livin’ To Do” flawlessly.

Danny Waldman (Hugo Peabody) and Harry McAfee (Dave Ermlick) delivered solid performances and the audience laughed heartily at Emlick’s attempts to upstage The Ed Sullivan Show.

Producer Melissa Jo York-Tilley and Director Don Petersen’s production is ‘family friendly,’ and the opening night audience comprised of parents, teens, youth, and ordained ministers really enjoyed it. The Elvis I remember seeing on the Ed Sullivan Show on my dichromatic black and white television screen had a whole lot more hip shaking going on that what we see on the stage.

The orchestra consisted of four superb musicians – Meredyth Stirling (piano); William Schillinger (guitar); Marie Juliano (percussion) and Theresa Arnold (Bass). They each deserve a ’10’ for their musicianship in embracing but not overpowering the actors’ singing and speaking lines. In addition, they capably supported the sixteen songs and two reprises.

I would be remiss not to mention the delightful work of Vocal Director Beth Atkins and Music Director Laura Boyles evidenced in the fine singing of the many actors and singers who graced the stage, as well as the energetic choreography provided by Danica Shook and her assistant Katy Chmura, and spot-on colorful costumes designed by Susy Moorstein.

An interesting but puzzling note is that this production had eight stage changes, adding more time to an already long production. The props were circa 1950s, e.g., a dial telephone with a curled cord, ‘fathers chair’ with an overarching lamp and a newspaper, and a girl’s bedroom with lots of white lace and frills. They were set against Jarret Baker’s scenic design that included an abstract backdrop of red and purple shapes with a twenty foot white rose painted on black curtains, and a moving wooden platform with lime green steps that was repositioned at each stage change. Stacy King provided the lighting design, Stan Harris the sound design, and Carl Brandt Long the fight choreography. All did fine work.

 Left to right - Owen Orwig (Randolph Macafee), Dave Ermlick ( Mr. Macafee), Danica Shook (Mrs. Macafee), and Megan Griggs (Kim Macafee). Photo by David Harback.
Left to right – Owen Orwig (Randolph Macafee), Dave Ermlick ( Mr. Macafee), Danica Shook (Mrs. Macafee), and Megan Griggs (Kim Macafee). Photo by David Harback.

Bring the whole family to Prince William Little Theatre’s production of  Bye Bye Birdie. Don’t just bring the family —invite the whole neighborhood to take a step back in time, and enjoy this fun musical. They are guaranteed to put on a happy face.

Running Time: Three hours, including one fifteen-minute intermission.

Bye Bye Birdie plays through July 28, 2013 at Prince William Little Theatre at The Hyton Performing Arts Center -10920 George Mason Circle, in Manassas, Virginia.  For tickets, call the box office at (703) 993-7759, or purchase them online.



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