Saturday, July 27, 2013
'Bye Bye Birdie' is a hit in Manassas
Conrad Birdie (Landon Dufrene) is surrounded by his fans in Prince William Little Theatre's current production, Bye Bye Birdie. On his right leg is Ursula Merkle (Clare Baker) and on his left, the mayor's wife (Tina Mullins) whom the mayor (Don Wilson) tries to unhitch. At the rear is Albert Peterson, Conrad's agent (Josh Wilson), and hidden is Rosie, Albert's "fiancee" (Holly McDade). Photo by David Harback.
Now I know why the pleasurable memory of Bye Bye Birdie that I saw way back in high school in Danville, Virginia has stuck with me over the years. It’s so entertaining!
The newest local rendition is on stage now in Manassas, gleefully performed by members of the Prince William Little Theatre who have as good a time putting on the show as the audience who watches the dancing and hears the Fab 50s songs of Conrad Birdie (Landon Dufrene) and his many fans.
Conrad’s story parallels that of a big 1950s star, one Elvis Presley when he was drafted in the Army, and Conrad is drafted, too! We hate to see him go.
The show starts out a little slow before it picks up steam and starts rocking to the tunes of Conrad's agent (Josh Wilson as Albert Peterson) and his wannabe wife (Holly McDade).
The most enjoyable songs are the group harmonies (Put On a Happy Face, Kids, Ed Sullivan, One Last Kiss, One Boy, A Lot of Livin’ To Do, Baby, Talk to Me) and a short solo by Danny Waldman who plays Hugo Peabody, the boyfriend of a starstruck teen (Kim MacAfee played by Megan Griggs).
Favorite actors are Dave Ermlick as Mr. MacAfee, Kim's father whose acting takes lift once he quits his silence and sulking “in his chair” to become a man frightened by current events.
Without uttering a word, the mayor’s wife (Tina Mullins) captures attention in one of many large group scenes with her polka dots and her “falls” for Conrad, amidst all the screaming teens. (The large cast of 39 increases audience pleasure.)
Jonathan Faircloth has multiple roles, but he and partner Katy Chumura's dancing stands out, noticeably because they are quite the professionals with genuine smiles and steps right in sync.
But, without question, the show stopper, the scene stealer, is the mother of mothers, Susy Moorstein, perfect as the nagging parent, always dressed in a long fur coat, white gloves, black hat, old woman’s purse, and 1950s pointed glasses. She’s a riot.
Albert's mother (Susy Moorstein) and Albert (Josh Wilson) ponder relationships in Prince William Little Theatre's Bye Bye Birdie. Photo by David Harback
Theatergoers are so happy when she waddles back on stage time and time again to wave and make snide comments, mostly about her son’s girlfriend, but to also beckon pity for a poor mother, as in “When you get back, can you stop by the kitchen and take my head out of the oven?”
For the play the simple set of neon backdrops fits the times and was adequate.
Tucked away on an upper level beside the stacked audience, an orchestra adds immensely to the show with music that suggests more than four pieces (Meredyth Stirling, piano; William Schillinger, guitar; Marie Juliano, percussion, and Theresa Arnold, bass).
What makes the production all the more charming are a couple of miscues: The phone rings while Kim is talking on it and her mother (Danica Shook who also acts as choreographer) is exiting the stage. Mother doesn't miss a beat and turns around and flashes an irritated look: “What’s that?”
In another scene, the lights went out for a few seconds in the middle of dialogue, but no one was affected. The microphones worked sporadically.
What is awkward is the too large multi-stepped wooden platform which performers constantly struggled to move between scenes, under the lights. (The only scene changes without dimmed lights were accompanied by a crash or two.) Direction got mixed up for one scene (probably more), and the platform had to be moved again, taking more time than usual and stretching the performance to almost three hours with one intermission.
The evocative costumes were designed by Ms. Moorstein, a stage star for more than 29 years. Don Petersen directed, and Melissa Jo York-Tilley produced.
Why sit home when you can get out, support the arts, and exit happy, made possible by the crew of the Prince William Little Theatre? It's a night for laughter. Enjoy!
What: Bye Bye Birdie
When: July 27, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; July 28, 2 p.m.
Where: The Gregory Family Theatre of the Hylton Performing Arts Center, George Mason University, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas, Virginia
Duration: About two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission
How much: $20 for adults and $16 for seniors and students and groups of ten and more.
For information: 703-993-7759 or 888-945-2468 (for tickets, or save $ and buy tickets at the box office. Call ahead to see if seats are available.)
Language: Nothing objectionable. Take the family!