BYE BYE BIRDIE At Goodspeed Musicals

By Marlene S. Gaylinn

“Bye Bye Birdie” began the careers of librettist Michael Stewart, composer Charles Strouse, lyricist Lee Adams, director/choreographer Gower Champion, actors/dancers Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera. Although it won several Tony Awards when it opened on Broadway in the 1960s, was remade into a film and reproduced for TV, I admit that this was never one of my fondest musicals. However, Goodspeed’s production has been re-staged, two songs from the film have been added, and with new choreography and a brilliant cast, enthusiastic audiences are packing the theatre. As a result, the show has been extended.

So, what makes this musical featuring an early rock star and his squealing fans so appealing to today’s audiences? It concerns a nostalgic period in the lives of the grey heads who largely attend theatre, it also happens to be lighthearted family entertainment, and it contains tuneful songs and lots of dancing. The silly story is simply an excuse for some fun. For example, the rock star’s character is based on Elvis Presley, and his unusual name resembles that of his rival, country music star Conway Twitty.

The action begins when teenage heartthrob, Conrad Birdie, is about to be inducted into the army (as was Elvis). As a publicity stunt, Birdie is scheduled to make his farewell appearance in the small town of Sweet Apple, Ohio. A local high school girl is chosen to be rendered a “good bye” kiss, and the whole event is to be seen on the Ed Sullivan Show. What follows is jealousy, the formation of love triangles, family strife, and the general disruption of this quiet town, as everyone tries to get into the act.

George Marrick is Birdie’s haggled agent, “Albert.” Janet Dacal grabs the stage as his fiery, love interest “Rose.” Kristine Zbornik, as Albert’s overpowering mother “Mae,” steals the show with “A Mother Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” and Rhett Guter, who’s charming smile resembles that of James Dean, nails his rock star role. The most familiar songs are “Put on a Happy Face,” “Kids,” and “A Lot of Livin’To Do.”

The director of this fine, professional cast is Jenn Thompson, who previously won a Connecticut Critics Circle nomination. Spilling out into the aisles is the lively choreography by Patricia Wilcox. Dance arrangements are by David Krane and Musical Director is Michael O’Flaherty.

Extended to September 8. Tickets: 860-873-8668. This review appears in “On CT & NY Theatre” - August/2015

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