Wednesday, December 09, 2009

What's The Matter With Adults Today? - Bye Bye Birdie - Musical Review

Bye Bye Birdie - Henry Miller's Theatre - Broadway - New York, NY - *** (out of 5 stars)
Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Lee Adams, Book by Michael Stewart, Directed and Choreographed by Robert Longbottom

I'm sure this review is going to lose me whatever credibility I thought I deluded myself into thinking I had, but while the critics and bloggers have pretty much ravaged this new Broadway revival of Bye Bye Birdie into tiny little bits, I actually didn't think it was all that bad and enjoyed elements to it. Maybe it's because I've seen the truly heinous and other bloggers and New York critics have yet to see the pit of despair that is called Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage or We Will Rock You. So by comparison, this was a walk in the park.

Yes, the new Bye Bye Birdie is flawed, with most of the "name" adult actors not quite up to the quality of the amazing cast of teenage kids, but I've also felt I've seen far worse performances before, so again, it didn't phase me as much. Granted, I've never actually seen this show before (not even a high school production) and knew nothing about the show except for its story as a veiled spoof on Elvis when he was drafted for war, so I didn't really have any expectations or memories to behold.

So yes, Gina Gershon and John Stamos star as the leads Albert Peterson and Rosie Alvarez. Both are likable and capable actors that have proven themselves on stage before, with Gina Gershon turning in a delightful and hilarious performance in Boeing Boeing, and Stamos was apparently a pretty good Emcee in Cabaret (plus you know, he will always be Uncle Jesse!). I guess those experiences never required Gina to sing, or Stamos to play nerdy, which is where much of the fuss lies.

The chemistry between the two apparent lovebirds is lacking since Stamos tries so commendably hard to play a geek underneath his natural cool charm (again, he will always be Uncle Jesse to me), while Gershon tries so hard to throw power into her voice that doesn't come naturally. Gershon's notes were at least in tune (better than Stockard Channing in Pal Joey or Allison Janey in 9 to 5, both who were commended for their performances) and I didn't totally hate her performance as she played cute, she just needed more flair and confidence, especially in her few attempts at dancing.

Stamos doesn't come off as well, with a singing voice that lacks a personality, but he manages to hobble by based on his own natural charisma (used so well in e.r.) that is ill suited for the character, but at least covers for the lackluster singing performances.

Jayne Houdyshell throws in all her might into a caricature as Albert's mother Mrs. Mae Peterson and while it's totally off the general feel of the rest of the show, it's such an amusing performance that like all old ladies, you let her get away with it.

Dee Hoty is wasted in the small role of Mrs. MacAfee, and sort of attempts to reign in her stage husband as much as she can, because I'm not sure what Bill Irwin (below with Hoty, Trimm and Schwencke) was on, but his performance was completely on a different planet. The usually reliable Irwin tries to give his Harry MacAfee his own quirks and identity and instead makes a mockery of the entire show with a performance that is just a mystery. His rendition of "Kids" ruins what should be a very funny song ("Kids, What's A Matter With Kids Today?") by trying to over do it with his comic inflections and instead backfires, making the song a kind of a lump.

Luckily, playing Irwin's daughter Kim MacAfee is the wonderous (and very young) Allie Trimm (above, 13). Kim is picked to meet the megastar Conrad Birdie and receive his last kiss before he gets shipped off to war, but Kim's new boyfriend Hugo is none too pleased. Hugo is played by Matt Doyle (Spring Awakening, Gossip Girl) with delight, but it's too bad the role has little singing to take advantage of Doyle's powerful voice. They have re-arranged the song "One" to give him some lines to sing, but it isn't enough, especially when paired with Trimm's soaring singing.

Nolan Gerard Funk (above, Nickelodeon's Spectacular) plays Conrad Birdie and gets most of the swagger down, though he doesn't have enough general stage presence yet to truly hold the stage and be believable as a megastar. Still, Funk does a serviceable job and hits the comical cues as required, and drinks his milk very nicely.

The beautiful colourful production itself tends to bog down anytime the adults are centre staged but zips along with its cast of kids with Trimm leading the way. The crew of kids are simply fantastic and they manage to turn Longbottom's choreography into a dazzling delight. "The Telephone Hour" (above) is simply marvelous (with an amusing Paul Pilcz leading the way as Harvey Johnson).

With a great ensemble of kids that includes another 13 alum Brynn Williams and an adorable dancing master Riley Costello, as well as a very funny Jake Evan Schwencke as Kim's little brother, I found the kids to be an absolute delight that saved the show from the adults. What is with kids today?

Vance at


Keira Andrews said...

So glad to hear it wasn't just me who liked this show! I was really surprised by the vitriol most people have spewn about it. Was it perfect? No, but I loved all the kids and I enjoyed the show quite a lot as a whole. Sets were amazing! I didn't love Irwin's "Kids," but I thought his physical comedy during the Ed Sullivan scenes was hysterical.

I think maybe being Canadian helps us with this one since we've had little exposure to the show and it's not a national classic. It made me smile and I had a great time. I really wish they'd given Matt a song that he could really belt, but alas. I'm just glad they gave him something. He tweeted the other day that his grandfather heard him sing for the first time since he'd just gotten a cochlear implant. Aww. I hope he's going to sit Grandpa down with some Spring Awakening bootlegs now. ;)

Vance said...

Actually, I did laugh at Irwin in the Ed Sullivan scene too.

I read about that Matt/Grandpa thing. So sweet! But yah, he needs another musical where he gets to sing the whole show. His voice needs to be heard!