Taking my seat for Central Catholic's production of "Bye Bye Birdie," I was excited to see this tried and true classic. Like many other audience members, I was familiar with the popular show and looked forward to certain numbers, characters and dialogue. For the most part, Central Catholic's performance met my expectations, yet it was not a resounding smash.
It starts out nicely, with Mama's Boy Albert Peterson (Joe Fennimore) and his secretary, Rose Alvarez (Rachel Rheingrover), discussing their latest business issue: Teen-hunk-superstar Conrad Birdie (Matt Doherty) is going off to war! For a parting extravaganza, the duo decides to randomly choose one member of the ever-so-dedicated Conrad Birdie Fan Club to receive "One Last Kiss" from Conrad before his departure. Unfortunately, reaching the chosen fan, Kim MacAfee (Carly Harris), proves harder than expected when all of the telephone lines in Kim's small town, Sweet Apple, Ohio, are busy because, Omigod, Kim and Hugo got pinned!!
"The Telephone Hour" is meant to explode with energy (as if Kim and Hugo's going steady is the best thing since sliced bread), and for the most part, it does. The ensemble portrays the bubbly teens of Sweet Apple with a great deal of spunk, and the dancing is upbeat and fun. But somehow, even this lovable number, the first large and exciting one in the show, isn't a showstopper.
In general, this is exactly how the show is: good, but not overwhelmingly so. Harris' Kim is a sweet and innocent girl who giddily sings "How Lovely to be a Woman" and "One Boy" with charm and sincerity, but fails to truly excite. Doherty's Conrad Birdie shakes his hips and curls his lip, but doesn't effectively connect with the audience.
The upside is that both have the correct physical "look" for their characters, as does the rest of the cast. Harris' Kim appears young and naive, especially compared to Doherty's Conrad, who is a dead ringer for a young Elvis Presley. The kids of Sweet Apple are dressed in keds and poodle skirts, with high ponytails and curled hair, completing the 1960s look.
Delia Scoville repeatedly cracks up the audience as Albert's overbearing mother, Mae. Not only does she treat Albert like he is five years old, but also continuously insults his fiancee Rose, reminding her to "call her Mrs. Peterson." Mae is the ultimate Martyr Mother, insisting on doing everything the hard way because it's "a mother's job."
Mae's invasive personality causes a predictable rift in Albert and Rose's relationship, prompting Albert to sing ("Baby Talk to Me") to her over the phone. Fennimore's vocals in this song can easily be considered the production's best moment. He hits every note perfectly, earning long applause. Earlier in the show, Fennimore also shines in "Put on a Happy Face." Between his impeccable singing and respectable dancing, Fennimore is the true talent in this cast.
As far as group numbers go, the catchy "Put on a Happy Face" is the main small, yet memorable, dance. Utilizing a bench prop, choreographer Erin Stetor-Seaberg produces a cute and fluffy dance that showcases the "sad girl's" dancing abilities with group turns and synchronized head nods (which sound easier than they really are).
Equally strong is "A Lot of Livin' to Do," the perky number that brings out the vibrant energy of the ensemble. Overall, the larger group numbers with the entire cast are more satisfying than the small numbers with 5 or 6 select cast members. They not only have volume that the smaller numbers lack, but showcase the cast as a whole with upbeat and complex dances.
The last number worth mention is the "Shriner Ballet," Rose's flirtatious attempt to distract herself from Albert by entertaining businessmen as the Spanish Rose. She kicks, she turns, she climbs under the table . . . there really isn't anything she doesn't do. Rheingrover truly shows herself to be a dancer in this well paced and comical number. It receives many laughs and gives the male cast members a time to shine as the happily startled businessmen, as, in response they playfully join her under the table
All in all, "Bye Bye Birdie" is an upbeat show that entertains all ages. Central Catholic put on a respectable version of this all-time classic, resulting in a pleasant evening.
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. Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson (firstname.lastname@example.org), a long-time Kelly Awards judge.
First Published April 20, 2012 4:30 AM