Bye Bye Birdie – Pin It to Win It

A REVIEW BY PANDORA LOCKS

Elvis Presley was drafted into the army in 1958 at the age of 21.  As one of the most popular entertainers of his day (or any day), this caused a sizable cultural tsunami.  Bye Bye Birdie, by Michael Stewart (lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse) premiered on Broadway in 1960 as a highly fictionalized version of that event, and it was a smaaaaash hit.  The show centers on rock star Conrad Birdie (a riff on Elvis’s then real-life rival, Conway Twitty, here played by Matt Peterson) his imminent deployment, and the devastation of his rabid fans.  Nobody is more pissed than writer Albert Peterson (Seth David), whose song the dim bunny was just about to record.  Albert’s gal-pal, Rosie (Alana DiSabatino), gets a great PR idea:  why not write a new tune that Conrad croons to his biggest fan on national TV?  Young Kim McAfee (Hunter Lubawski) is chosen as the lucky lady, but not everyone is so happy ’bout it, especially not her boyfriend, Hugo (Dorian Smith).  Highjinx ensue.  

Artistic Synergy is a small company located in Rosedale, and oh to be lost in Rosedale!  After circling a few times, we found the obscure church that they call home and proceeded into the basement.  The garish overhead fluorescents did not work super well with my makeup, TBH, and I do not like looking so tired, so, point off for lighting [I just want to point out that if you want high marks from Ms. Pandora Locks, a good idea would be to shine photo-ready lighting on her as she walks in.  A small wind machine would also not go amiss.  And a feather boa. – TBO].  We could all take notes on audience building from Artistic Synergy, as we had a hard time finding seats (the joint was packed, good for them!).  The spotlight is ancient and hilarious, but my smile was real.  I loved watching it swing around like a good 1950s-era show.  The overhead lights shut off very suddenly and it was ready or not, here we go!

David and DiSabatino take the stage and work their way through a slightly rough opening into “An English Teacher”, the first number…and the lady sure can sing!  Yes!  BONUS, I totally want her Mac Real Red lipstick because that shit was rocking.  I settle in and remind myself, for about the bazillionth time, that I need to carry hemorrhoid cushions around like I’m 80.  These seats are killing my ass.  The teenagers in the show, I think, are really teenagers.  If not they totally had me fooled.  I have trouble critiquing the growing youth and don’t want to stunt their precious pursuit of the bright lights, so let’s say that some were more polished than others.  Lubawski is a star, full out.  She’s got a superb voice and is cute as a fucking button.  Her facial expressions and perfectly timed swoons were great.  My other favorite was Melissa Broy Forston playing Albert’s overbearing mother, Mae.  Fortson has her her comic timing down pat.  She had the audience laughing on cue and got that physical comedy (cane and all) to really punctuate the production.  

The stagehands move the set (Colby Aerford, Daniel DeJong and Stanton Zacker) and damn are they efficient.  Guys, I work the scene in Baltimore and these were elaborate shifts that were done excellently.  The sets are painted (Ann Pallanck and Amy Rudai) and stocked nicely.  The kitchen looked like they stole someone’s actual kitchen and plunked it down on the stage, then it turned into a subway station, then an office with awesomely swift strokes. The lighting though, well.  There was a light tree behind me that didn’t do anything other than highlight the unusual growth pattern of commencing baldness on the gentlemen in the next seat.  There was also a light on stage that would, seemingly at random, go into sporadic bursts of strobe.  Not wonderful.  Choreography by Suzanne Hasselbusch is to be commended, as the dance numbers were well-synced (especially “The Telephone Hour”), with 1950s realness.  Getting twenty teenagers in sync for anything is fucking commendable, so someone get that woman a cocktail.   

Here is where I admit that Bye Bye Birdie just isn’t my cup of tea.  For me, the text is a cringe-fest of 1950s attitudes and the entire book sounds like fighting words for our modern age.  Don’t get me twisted: the show is fun, accommodates a large cast, and the music is definitely toe-tapping without content one might traditionally call “objectionable”.  I’m just saying it is also misogynistic, super dated and I tend to question how “wholesome” it really is.  I mean, watching Lubawski change clothes on stage (whyyyy) while charmingly crooning lyrics like “How lovely to have a figure/that’s round instead of flat/Whenever you hear boys whistle/you’re what they’re whisting at!”.  Facepalm.  

BOTTOM LINE:   I may not be a Birdie fangirl, but this production was a fun stab at a Broadway classic.  There were glitches, yes, but they’ve also got some delightful star power up in there.  If you’re over that way, definitely check it out this weekend.  You never know where young actors may end up, and you want to say you saw them when, right?  Special message to the youth in this show:  Keep going, kids.  The lights are bright and the future is wide open.

Running at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church until March 19th.

SECOND OPINION?

http://mdtheatreguide.com/2017/03/theatre-review-bye-bye-birdie-at-artistic-synergy/

https://backstagebaltimore.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/review-bye-bye-birdie-at-artistic-synergy-of-baltimore/

Email Pandora Locks at pandoralocks@gmail.com

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