Directed by – Terri Hager Scherer
Assistant Director and Choreographer – Larry Borero
Music Director – Cody Dry
Set Design – Jason Leyva
Costume Design – Victor Newman Brockwell
Lighting Design – Jason Leyva and Branson White
Props Design – Kristin M. Burgess
Sound Design – Danny Bergeron
Stage Manager – Aricelli Radillo Bowling
Steven Miller – Albert Peterson
Rebecca Paige – Rose Alvarez
Taylor Nash –Kim MacAfee
Jacob Lewis – Conrad Birdie
Kris Allen – Mr. Harry MacAfee
Christia Caudle – Mrs. Doris MacAfee
Parker Niksich – Randolph MacAfee
Stephanie Felton – Mrs. Mae Peterson
Jonathan Hardin – Hugo Peabody/Second Customer
Kate Dressler – Ursula Merkle
Kathryn Baxter – Deborah Sue
Taylor Baxter – Margie
Joey Donoian – Harvey Johnson/First Customer
Anna Chaise Lanier – Helen
Camilla Cox – Nancy
Ashley Markgraf – Gloria Rasputin/Alice/Kim Understudy
Gary E. Payne – Mayor/Mr. Johnson
Jane Talbert – Mayor’s Wife
Tianta Harrison – Mrs. Merkle
Hilary Evitt Allen – First Reporter
Claire DeJean – Penelope/One Girl
Ania Lyons – Sad Girl Dancer
Jonathan McInnis – Maude/Albert Understudy
Mark Quach – Maude’s Dishwasher
Aaron Jakoboski, Blake Seabourn, Miles Alexander, Jack Eppart, Jonathan Hardin, Joey Donoian, Jonathan McInnis, Mark Quach – Male Teen Ensemble
Kate Dressler, Kathryn Baxter, Taylor Baxter, Anna Chaise Lanier, Camilla Cox, Ashley Markgraf, Clair DeJean, Ania Lyons – Female Teen Ensemble
Reviewed Performance 3/4/2017
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Bye Bye Birdie was based on the real-life event of Elvis Presley being drafted into the army in 1957. Set in 1958, it originally ran on Broadway for 607 performances, and starred such greats as Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera, Paul Lynde, and Charles Nelson Reilly. It won Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Actor (for Van Dyke), and then relatively unknown Gower Champion won Tonys for Best Director and Best Choreographer. Its first film adaptation was in 1963, again starring Van Dyke, and it catapulted a young Ann-Margaret to fame. Jason Alexander and Vanessa L. Williams also starred in a movie adaption in 1995.
Bye Bye Birdie has been a popular choice among community and regional theatres since its inception. It has been many years since I’d seen a production, and I honestly don’t know that it holds up well. Mrs. Mae Peterson’s insults of Rose Alvarez, just because of her surname, made me cringe a bit, as did the idea that a woman’s real purpose in life is to please her man and get married. Teenagers screaming insanely for stars such as Elvis Presley and the Beatles has also (thankfully) become a thing of the past for the most part.
That said, The Firehouse Theatre has put together a serviceable production of the dated story. Jason Leyva’s brightly colored set is wonderfully multipurpose, with flats that swing out to create realistic interior locations and flats on rollers used to create pretty much everything else. The use of projections is used well to create the mood in certain scenes, as well as before the show, and the use of real cameras to film what was going on during the Ed Sullivan Show was a really nice touch.
The lighting by Mr. Leyva and Branson White was hit and miss, as the actors’ faces were sometimes in the dark, and overall the stage often seemed a bit dimly lit. Victor Norman Brockwell’s costumes were bright and colorful, and mostly period. Props by Kristin M. Burgess were nicely done and not distracting.
Terri Hagar Scherer’s direction was well executed, and she obviously worked well with her musical director Cody Dry and choreographer Larry Borero, as they have successfully put together a very strong show. From Ms. Scherer’s smooth, effortless blocking to Mr. Dry’s beautiful blending of voices to Mr. Borero’s exciting choreography, all the pieces coordinated seamlessly to create unified vision.
Steven Miller plays Albert Peterson with a confident, almost cocky attitude...except when dealing with his mother and when he thinks he’s lost Rose. The role itself is a little confusing. Is he Conrad Birdie’s agent? His songwriter? It’s not really clear. Fortunately, Mr. Miller quickly makes us forget about that with his pleasant singing voice and excellent acting choices.
Playing opposite Mr. Miller is Rebecca Paige as Rose Alvarez. Bye Bye Birdie really is their story, with the whole Conrad Birdie going to war thing as a ruse to finally get them together. Ms. Paige plays Rose with a brash, old-fashioned “girl Friday” feel, although she is able to lose all that and melt when Albert talks sweet to her. Her strong vocals and light-on-her-feet dancing round out her winning performance.
The only thing keeping Albert and Rose apart is Albert’s mother, Mrs. Mae Peterson. Stephanie Felton brings all the comedy to this nagging woman, and the animosity she holds for Rose is palpable. Ms. Felton is a very talented character actress, but her performance was diminished by the badly done age makeup and bad grey wig. I was about halfway back in the audience and the lines on her face were just too dark. She really didn’t them. They distracted from what was a very funny, well-rounded performance.
Jacob Lewis plays the iconic role of Conrad Birdie. He has the conventional teen idol “look” and his sideways smile and swiveling hips confirm that he’s swoon - and scream - worthy. His singing was not as strong as it should have been for such a role, but because of his charisma, he sells it.
Taylor Nash plays Kim MacAfee, the random Conrad Birdie fan chosen to receive his “one last kiss” before he goes off to war. At 15, she has just become pinned to her boyfriend Hugo Peabody, played by Jonathan Hardin. The two make an uneven pair, as Hugo is a bit of a wimp and Kim is a “modern woman” (for 1958). Ms. Nash has a lovely, lilting soprano voice and is a fine dancer. She has excellent facial expressions, and her little freaking out giggle every time she said Conrad Birdie’s name was adorable. Mr. Hardin does a nice job with a role that really isn’t very well-developed.
Kris Allen, Christia Caudle, and Parker Niksich complete the MacAfee family. Mr. Allen is the perfect put-upon father of a teenager and does an outstanding job with the song Kids. Ms. Caudle walks the fine line of supporting her husband, being there for her daughter, and wanting to entertain Conrad Birdie in a way that will impress him. Then there’s the role of Randolph MacAfee. Rather than being an annoying little brother, this kid is doing whatever he can to please his parents, and Mr. Niksich plays it up to the hilt.
Kim’s friends (and loyal members of the Conrad Birdie Fan Club) are led by a nearly unrecognizable Kate Dressler as Ursula Merkle. A Firehouse regular, Ms. Dressler once again shows off her versatility in a very fun role for her. Also standing out in the female teen ensemble are Ashley Markgraf (who also morphs into the perfectly silly Gloria Rasputin) and Ania Lyons as the Sad Girl Dancer.
As with older musicals, Bye Bye Birdie contains a large chorus/ensemble, and all the pieces and parts fit together very well. Everyone sang and danced and brought their characters to life beautifully, without stealing focus from others. A solid, consistent ensemble is not always easy, but it is definitely achieved here.
Despite the show being terribly dated, audiences still seem to love Bye Bye Birdie, and this is certainly the case at The Firehouse Theatre. The performance I was at received a standing ovation, which is what this fine staging deserves.
BYE BYE BIRDIE
The Firehouse Theatre
2535 Valley View Lane
Farmers Branch, TX 75234
Runs through March 12
Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30pm, Sundays at 2:30pm. Tickets are $12-25 . For info and to purchase tickets www.thefirehousetheatre.com or call the box office at 972.620.3747.