The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools.
High school theater isn’t about perfection. It isn’t about the money put into costumes or the set, and it certainly isn’t about creating a Tony Award-worthy performance. High school theater is about having fun, enjoying yourself, and creating a piece of art to be proud of. And that is exactly what the cast of Pittsburgh Brashear’s “Bye Bye Birdie” did. This was one of the most energized shows I have seen in a long time.
"Bye Bye Birdie” is the story of a rock star named Conrad Birdie who gets drafted to the war. Birdie’s manager, Albert Peterson, and his secretary and long suffering girlfriend, Rose Alvarez, come up with an idea to have Birdie sing one last song (“One Last Kiss”) and kiss one lucky girl on The Ed Sullivan Show before he goes overseas. Rosie picks a girl from Birdie's Fan club in Sweet Apple, Ohio, named Kim MacAfee. Kim is a 16 year-old who is happy to think she's a woman when she gets pinned by her sweetheart, Hugo Peabody. Kim spends the majority of the story grappling between being an adult in a committed relationship and going wild with Conrad Birdie.
Brashear’s production of this show proved theater is much more than the overall quality of the performance. It was overtly apparent to me that every single person on the stage was thrilled to be there, and was having the time of his/her life. This even extendsed to the stage crew who donned shirts with big pink letters that read ‘STAGE CREW’ and had clearly become a family of their own.
Some of the best performances onstage followed the same theme of passion and energy. Gene Flowers, as Conrad Birdie, wowed me with his enthusiasm. Flowers performed the Elvis-esque character with absolute abandon. The same goes for the adorable Jean Smith who played Ursula Merckle, Kim McAfee’s best friend. She delivered an extraordinarily captivating performance despite having a smaller sized role.
Perhaps one of the most impressive students was the show’s choreographer, Kiara Coccaro. She took on a role normally occupied by a faculty member, which is no small feat to begin with, and created a wonderful product. The choreography stayed true to the 1950’s style while catering to every person in the cast’s dancing ability.
This show was not perfect. The vocals were not strong. The direction was lack-luster and ineffective and there were many technical mistakes throughout the performance. However, high school theater is created to instill confidence, to provide an escape from life, and to be enjoyed. That’s what’s important and that’s exactly what Brashear’s “Bye Bye Birdie” did.
Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson. For more high school musicals coverage, go to http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/theater-dance/ and scroll down.