ORIGINALLY A SPOOF on the teen-age mania over Elvis Presley, Bye-Bye Birdie--revived in 1974--is simply sexism put to music.
The Mather House production, though, is very well done, and except for its paucity of dialogue compares favorably to the movie version. The booming voice and professional performance of Louise Clapps as Rosie, a secretary who for eight years has been trying to wed her boss, pulls the play through its 17 musical numbers.
The play focuses around the drafting of Conrad Birdie, a teen-age rock star. Rosie, however, comes up with a way to turn the loss of her boss's only client into a financial bonanza--pick a Birdie fan at random for Conrad to kiss on the Ed Sullivan Show after singing his new song, "One Last Kiss." Rosie also wants Albert (xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx), her boss, to quit songwriting, break away from his protective mother, and become an English teacher. Her dreams all come to pass by the final curtain call.
Mary Clifford was well cast as Kim, the "lucky" typical American teenager who becomes "dizzy and faint" at the thought of kissing Birdie. Richard F. Hope, who plays her hen-pecked father, is hilarious and fights back against female domination in his household with comical futility.
The production's one weakness is Wayne Morse, who tended to overact the part of Albert, and whose voice was occassionally drowned out by Clapps's in the duos.
The most difficult musical number, "The Telephone Conversation," involves all the teenagers in Kim's town tying up the telephone lines singing "Have you heard about Hugo and Kim, they're going steady." The song, involving the whole cast, is well coordinated, like all the numbers, but seemed abbreviated from the original.
When Birdie comes to the town of Sweet Apple he sings "You Got to be Sincere" and town's women shriek, coo and spoon over the rotating hips of the star. As part of the spoof, the director has emphasized the sexual overtones and their excitement is transformed into something very much like masturbation. One woman, sitting in the front row with her seven-year-old child was so shocked, was so shocked she walked out.
The trouble with the play is that it drags a bit in the second half, as it increasingly centers on reconciliation of Rosie and Albert and most of the exciting "We Love You Conrad" numbers have past.
The question remains, however, why revive Birdie? "It's ridiculous," said one member of the audience as he left, "but it was fun."