Tyler Civic Theatre Center Musical Light, ‘Bubble Gum Fun’
By STEWART SMITH
I wonder if a musical like "Bye Bye Birdie" could or ever would get made today.
There are plenty of musicals that feel like products of their time or are a direct response or reaction to the times (there's no way to view something like "Hair" as anything but). The very specific set up for "Birdie," however, probably wouldn't happen today.
Teen heartthrob and music idol Conrad Birdie (Doug Lake) has just gotten drafted by the Army and is set to be shipped off to boot camp in a couple weeks. The only problem is that Conrad is the bread and butter of his agent, Albert Peterson (Stephen Rainwater). However, his sweetheart (and secretary), Rosie (Desirey Olison), hatches an idea to help Conrad go out with a band that will square away the financial troubles Albert finds himself in, though she makes Albert promise he'll quit the music business and become a teacher.
The plan is to have Conrad record and premiere a new song, "One Last Kiss," but then have him plant a real "last kiss" on the lips of one lucky member of his fan club while performing on live television. That lucky girl? Kim MacAffee (Zane Liston). Kim is your average small town girl. Eager to be taken seriously as a woman (as most 15 year old girls are wont to do) and over the moon about getting "pinned" by her sweetheart, Hugo (Zak Evans), Kim feels grown up. An adult, she insists. So much so that she's ready to renounce her membership in the Conrad Birdie Fan Club.
Until, that is, she finds out that Conrad is coming to Sweet Apple, Ohio just for her.
What ensues is a whole lot of exasperated hand-wringing on behalf of the towns adults, a whole lot of squealing and fainting by the town's teen girls and more than a little rabid jealousy on behalf of Hugo toward that hunk o' burnin' love.
If you're only familiar with the 1963 film starring Janet Leigh and Dick Van Dyke (and paved the way for Ann-Margaret to co-star with Elvis in his films) then this stage production will have plenty you've never seen before, including a couple dance numbers and songs. The second half of the show will be mostly new as well. Where the film ended after Hugo punches out Conrad on the "Ed Sullivan Show," there's still about an hour to go in the stage version with a completely different ending.
The cast that director Derek Johnson has assembled at Tyler Civic Theatre is clearly having a lot of fun on the stage with each playing off each other well. The songs are infectious (although you'll likely have the girls' "We Love You Conrad" anthem stuck in your head the longest time, like it or not) and the choreography is fun to watch. This is pretty much the definition of a show that's bubble gum light, but sometimes that's just what the doctor ordered.