pictured l to r: Steven Wells as Hugo, Melissa Maricich as Kim, DuWayne Andrews, Jr. as Conrad, Steve Barnett as Albert, and Ashley Ortenzo as Rosie
photo courtesy: DK Photography
Saturday, May 10, 2014
Bye Bye Birdie at Tacoma Little Theatre
I regret to say I wish I had not agreed to review Bye Bye Birdie at Tacoma Little Theatre. I regret to have to report that this show — originally staged in 1960, a perennial favorite with high school theaters and revived on Broadway at recently as 2009 — is as silly, hokey and sophomoric now as it was then.
In his review of the Broadway revival, New York Times critic Ben Bradley suggested patrons send the theater get well cards. I shall try not to be so snarky, but this piece of confection should not continue to be foisted on the public.
Inspired by the hoopla surrounding Elvis Presley’s induction into the army in 1957 and the fears that he would be forgotten by the time he got out two years later, “Bye Bye Birdie” puts teen idol Conrad Birdie (DuWayne Andrews, Jr.) in the same situation. His agent, Albert Peterson (Steve Barnett) and his secretary, Rosie (Ashley Ortenzo) cook up a publicity scheme designed to seal his popularity. The scheme is for Conrad to go to Sweet Apple, Ohio, a typical small town in middle America and sing a new song, “One Last Kiss” and then kiss a typical teenage girl goodbye on the Ed Sullivan show. The lucky girl is Kim MacAfee (Melissa Maricich).
The cast and crew of the TLT show give it their all. The period costumes are well chosen, and the Laugh In-style set by Blake York is colorful with a nice ’50s kitchen table and some great blue stools, but some kind of backdrop other than a plain screen was badly needed. The lighting by Pavlina Morris was okay but there were a couple of spots where Birdie should have been spotlighted but wasn’t.
I did enjoy the work of the backstage orchestra directed by Terry O’Hara with trumpet by Blane Gosselin, Bill Golterman on guitar, Peter Tietjen on percussion and keyboard by O’Hara.
I commend TLT for its color-blind casting — a black actor in the role of the heartthrob singer patterned after Elvis Presley, and a black kid (Donovan A. Muirhead, Jr.) as the younger brother in an otherwise all white family. Muirhead is cute and displays some admirable acting ability. Andrews, sporting a suitably comical Elvis wig, is a competent but not memorable actor and singer. He has some nice dance moves that bring to mind both Elvis and James Brown.
Barnett is a veteran of many roles at Tacoma Musical Playhouse where he is Director of Education, and his experience clearly shows in this production. No one else in the cast manages such a range of both acting and singing skills with such apparent effortlessness.
Maricich was beautifully cast as Kim. I enjoyed her rendition of “How Lovely to be a Woman,” a song about putting away childish things like the Conrad Birdie Fan Club now that she’s a woman and going steady (she’s playing a 15-year-old).
Many members of the opening night audience enjoyed the show and laughed uproariously at bits that were only mildly funny. With a cast of 30, I suspect that many there were family and friends supporting the cast.
I can’t recommend this show. I just hope that director Chris Serface — who has done a lot of excellent work in previous shows at TMP and Capital Playhouse and who is doing a great job as TLT’s new Artistic Director — gets a much better vehicle to work with the next time he directs.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday through June 1
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281, www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
Also see Michael Dresdner's review.