Mount Vernon Community Children’s Theatre presents Bye Bye Birdie, with Book by Michael Stewart, Music by Charles Strouse, and Lyrics by Lee Adams. Carolyn Burke directs a large cast of young actors in this fun production, with musical direction by Amy Conley. For a large cast of young performers to deliver such a production, it’s a credit to the encouraging, solid, and steady direction by Ms. Burke and Ms. Conley.
As most of the stage’s space was needed for large ensemble numbers, Set Designer Suzanne Parrish kept it minimal, with a couple of large set pieces (my favorite was a retro kitchen with pink appliances!) wheeled on and offstage when needed. Constructing the set itself was just one element of many in the production handled by parents of the cast members. There was a live band providing music, and I was glad that Sound Designer Bill Johnson didn’t let their playing drown out any vocals (a common problem with live music). The actors were mic’d, and while there were some crackly instances of microphone feedback (particularly when a character changes her outfit during a number and jostles her mic around in the process), the dialogue and vocals were clearly heard over the powerful instruments.
Lighting Designer Doug Johnson chose spotlighting as his main method of choice, and handled it well. One technical element where I wished to see a bit more creativity was in the costumes, by Laura Marshall and Pam Peckar. The costumes for the ensemble are largely casual, and the dated references were minor, consisting mainly of ribbons tied into ponytails. With the musical being set in the late 1950s, I feel like there was a lot of untapped potential in this respect , and I would have loved to see it explored further.
The idea for Bye Bye Birdie was inspired by the drafting of Elvis Presley into the US Army in 1957, and the show uses a teasing, satirical tone for telling the story of how teenage heartthrob Conrad Birdie (Brevan Collins) faces the same fate. In an attempt to sugar-coat the unpleasant ordeal, Conrad’s manager Albert Peterson (Aidan White) conspires to turn his departure into a spectacle, including the performance of a new song and a public farewell kiss for small-town-girl Kim MacAfee (Andie Matten), the president of Conrad’s fan club. However, when the rebellious teenagers prove themselves to be unpredictable amidst all the excitement, this meticulously planned event turns into a runaway adventure!
This show has a lot of fun song-and-dance routines. Gennifer DiFilippo handles the daunting task of choreographing over 30 young artists, and the results are fun to watch, particularly in the lively number “A Lot of Livin’ To Do.” Halle Kaufax (Rosie) shows great talent and poise as a dancer in her solo number “Spanish Rose,” and the famous number “Put on a Happy Face” had some clever moves built in that received enthusiastic applause from the audience. While the overall enthusiasm of the cast was well-received, there were a few performances that stood out above the others.
I absolutely loved Annlouise Conrad as Mae Peterson, the hilarious and over-dramatic elderly mother of Albert. Aidan White was also great as the overworked, neurotic Albert, and the two together onstage were the highlights of the show. Adam Ashley also proved memorable as Mr. MacAfee, a stressed father prone to emotional meltdowns, shown best in his exasperated number, “Kids.”
Mount Vernon Community Children’s Theatre’s production of Bye Bye Birdie is an enjoyable choice for an evening of family-friendly entertainment. I also always encourage a chance to take your children to watch their own peers perform onstage– the effect is inspiring and powerful.
Running Time: Two hours, including one 15- minute intermission.