Glendale Centre Theatre’s terrific revival of the rock-n-rollin’ 1960 Broadway favorite Bye Bye Birdie makes at least two things abundantly clear. First, despite a number of cultural references certain to fly over the heads of whippersnappers too young for their AARP membership card, the fifty-seven-year-old Broadway smash remains younger than most musicals half its age. And second, there’s no SoCal theater better at staging musicals in-the-round than GCT.
Baby boomers and their parents will surely recall the mass female hysteria inspired by pelvis-swiveling teen idol Elvis Presley’s induction into the U.S. Army back in 1958.
The same “oh no, it can’t be true” response is felt when BBB’s Conrad Birdie (Adam Hollick) gets his draft notice, a reaction shared by songwriter Albert J. Peterson (Robert Pieranunz) and longtime girlfriend Rose Alvarez (Colette Peters), who fear the loss of their biggest moneymaker.
Fortunately for the professional and personal partners, Rose comes up with a super-duper publicity stunt to make up for all the Birdie bucks they’ll be losing while Conrad does his military service.
Albert will write one last Conrad Birdie hit (the appropriately titled “One Last Kiss”) and Birdie will bestow said kiss on a member of his teen girl fan club selected at random.
It’s easy enough for Albert to pick a name. Trouble is, he can’t get through to 15-year-old Kim MacAfee (Maryanne Burr) to give her the good news that she’s to be the lucky kissee, Kim having just been pinned by boyfriend Hugo Peabody (Taylor Wesselman), news which has the phone lines of Sweet Apple, Ohio abuzz.
Soon enough. however, the MacAfee family—dad Harry (Danny Michaels), mom Doris (Tracy Ray Reynolds), and preteen son Randolph (Travis Burnett-Downing)—get the thrilling news, and are even more elated upon learning that the entire proceedings will be televised on none other than The Ed Sullivan Show!
As any Broadway buff will tell you, Bye Bye Birdie features one instantly recognizable, sing-along-able Charles Strouse and Lee Adams hit after another including “Put On A Happy Face,” “A Lot Of Livin’ To Do,” “One Boy,” and “Kids.”
Equally memorable is the now-classic “The Telephone Hour,” just one example of choreographer Orlando Alexander’s rock-and-roll-tastic dance moves, tailored with utmost expertise to Glendale Centre Theatre’s arena stage and extending all the way up into the aisles.
Master comedy director Todd Nielsen proves an ideal choice to helm Birdie, having demonstrated his in-the-round mettle in GTC shows as diverse as The 39 Steps and 1776, and Alexander matches him in one show-stopping production number after another.
Having delighted as Hugo some years back, Pieranunzi graduates with flying colors to Albert, L.A.’s very own Ray Bolger showing off song-and-dance pizzazz in “Put On A Happy Face,” soft-shoe style in “Rosie,” and velvet vocals in the win-her-back-with-a-song “Baby Talk To Me.”
Peters follows Anything Goes’ floozy-rrific Irma with a fiery star turn as Rosie, belting with the best of them in “What Did I Ever See In Him?”, poking fun at every Latin cliché in the book in “Spanish Rose,” and high-kicking up her heels in the hilarious “Shriner’s Ballet,” which has Rosie dancing on (and popping out from under) tables and being wooed and comically man-handled by a bunch of drunk but harmless Shriners—and thanks to Alexander’s ingenious dance moves, doing it all in-the-round.
Hollick not only looks more Elvis-like than just about any Birdie I’ve seen but shows off rock-crooner pipes in “Honestly Sincere,” “One Last Kiss,” and “A Lot Of Livin’ To Do.”
A scene-stealing Cindy Irwin Bullock proves herself a master of passive-aggressive love as Albert’s mother-from-hell Mae.
Burr is a girl-next-door charmer as Kim opposite Wesselman’s boy-next-door likable Hugo, with Hope English’s bubbly Ursula and Phillip Thomas’s nerdy-cute Harvey Johnson standouts among supporting teens Edgar Cardoso (Freddie), Michael Dumas (Carl), Meredith Gibbs (Margie), Augusto Guardado (James), Fernanda Hidalgo (Penelope), Holly Hodges Catanian (Helen), dance captain Danielle Lebens (Suzie), Anica Petrovic (Nancy), Natalie Roberts (Alice), and Summer Ruyle (Deborah Sue).
A hilariously hot-and-bothered Michaels does a masterful slow burn as Henry McAfee, with Reynolds revealing June Cleaver-Donna Reed chops as his long-suffering wife and Burnett-Doering a spunky delight as stage son Randolph.
Fight director Timothy Ryan Bartlettt (Mr. Johnson), Holly Constant (Mrs. Merkle), Hisato Masuyama (Charles Maude), Doreese Norman (The Mayor’s Wife), Wayne Remington (Policeman), Robert Schaumann (The Mayor) and especially April Amante (as dumb-blonde Gloria Rasputin) shine in various grown-up cameos, with “teens in training” Elyse Caine and Symera Jackson completing the cast.
Musical director Steven Applegate elicits harmonious vocals from all concerned.
Nielsen’s ingeniously chameleon-like set, Paul Reid’s lighting, and Nathan Milisavljevich’s sound design are all Grade A, as are cast members’ stage-hand skills.
Glendale Costumes’ Angela Manke has once again designed dozens upon dozens of pitch-perfect period costumes, with special snaps for an ingenious, lickety-split switch from black-and-white to Technicolor (and to Petrovic’s hair and makeup design).
Bye Bye Birdie is produced by Tim Dietlein.
Ed Sullivan, vinyl 45s, and 1950s innocence may have gone the way of the dinosaurs, but as Glendale Centre Theatre’s neato-keeno revival proves to perfection, Bye Bye Birdie remains as delightful a crowd-pleaser as ever.
Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale. Through April 1. Fridays at 8:00. Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00. Thursdays February 23 and March 2 at 8:00. Sundays February 26 and March 5 and 12 at 3:00. Reservations: 818 244-8481
February 18, 2017