Bye Bye Birdie
At Rindge Toch Tonight and Saturday.
Legs, sweaters, rousing music, and tremendous good fun--that's Bye Bye Birdie, one of the liveliest musicals in recent Harvard theater.
The story lampoons popular rock-and-roller Conrad Birdie, and the inscrutable American middle class. The Radcliffe production stars Nick Littlefield as the hapless agent with a mother on his back and Ciji Ware as Rose Alverez, Littlefield's lovelorn secretary. Both leads sing pleasantly and dance with style. And Miss Ware's "Shriners" number, a torrid sequence with a buffoon male chorus, almost stops the show.
Jonathan Gordon, who plays Birdie, makes a splendid oaf. His "Sincere" song, punctuated by screaming teenagers and collapsing matrons, is easily the high point of the first act. Birdie, about to be drafted, makes a trip to Sweet Apple, Ohio, where he is to bestow his last leering kiss--coast-to-coast--on Kim MacAfee, typical teenage fan (played charmingly by Carol Ketty). In Sweet Apple he runs into Kim's father, Gilbert Nussbaum, who counters Birdie's laughable lecheries with wonderfully ineffectual tantrums. The father's rage subsides, briefly at least, when he appears on the Ed Sullivan show along with Conrad and Kim. His hymn to Ed Sullivan is one of the most sinister parodies in musical comedy.
After a rather slow first scene, the whole show rises to a brisk, pattering pace that almost never drags. Much of the credit for its success must go to the supporting characters. The chorus looks as good as it sings and dances--and it does those very well. Particular notice should be given Felicity Colby, as the deadpan fan, Carol Derris as Kim's best friend, and Angel Phelan, the ludicrously seductive secretary. Strong support also comes from Jaye Schulman, the persistent mother, and George Selden, versatile Mayor and Shriner chieftain.
Equally important is the technical support Birdie receives. Perry Bagg's costumes are colorful and imaginative. Peter Prangnell's sets are a little bare and much too purple, but his set changes are cleverly engineered and, in several instances, downright funny. The music, under Larry Robertson's neon baton, is a bit inexpert, at least in the first act, But it picks up nicely in the second, and should improve with performances.
Evident throughout the show is the silent hand of director Dean Stolber. Stolber's staging, especially in the telephone scene, shows remarkable comic sense. And the choreography, handled by both Stolber and Miss Ware, is positively inspired. The singing may be ragged on occasion, and the ham a little overdone, but Bye Bye Birdie fairly rings with gusto and life.