Everyone dreams of being greeted by excited fangirls at some point in their life, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at O’Fallon Theatre Works’ production of Bye Bye Birdie. Before the audience even finds their way into the performance space, they are immersed into the world of the show. OTW’s production is housed at the O’Fallon Municipal Centre, second floor in a gymnasium, which adds a certain nostalgic effect that localizes that high school teenage essence. The traditional ushers are forgone for ensemble members, in this case: the Conrad Birdie obsessed teenagers sharing their excitement that their idol is coming to town.
This charming musical, written by Michael Stewart (Book), Charles Strouse (Music), and Lee Adams (Lyrics), follows music producer Albert Peterson and his secretary/lover Rosie Alvarez arranging a goodbye concert for his star client Conrad Birdie before he departs for the army, and allowing the lovers a chance to break away and start a life together. Lucky fangirl Kim MacAfee is selected to receive a kiss from Conrad, sending the entire town (especially the kids) into a star-struck frenzy. The script is expertly written with wisecracks and one-liners riddled throughout the show, always giving the audience a chance to get lost in the antics of these characters.
One of the strengths of the show, and of this production, is the strongly written supporting roles that offer a great opportunity to the ensemble cast. A few standouts in relatively minor roles were Linda Daly playing Albert’s guilting mother Mae, who never wasted a moment to play the victim, Angela Brandow’s Ursula gathered a few laughs with her intense teenage obsession over Conrad, and Brady Stiff as Randolph MacAfee, who had very few lines, but was consistently reacting and stealing with scene with a beaming, supportive charm. Of course, the cast is led solidly by Andrew Woodard as Albert Peterson who really finds his rhythm when he begins to sing with a surprisingly mellow voice, and by Becky Loughridge as Rosie, the driving force in the show and offering physical grace in several dance sequences.
Legendary performers Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera originated Woodard and Loughridge’s roles, creating large shoes to fill, which the actors gracefully took on that challenge well. The cast is rounded out by Erin Morris and Patrick Blanner playing the young committed lovers, Kim MacAfee and Hugo Peabody. Morris demonstrated a sweetness in her earnest delivery, while Blanner pulled the audience in with his adorable, yet dorky charm. The MacAfee household is reigned by Oscar Lares, an audience favorite of the night, and Michelle Yorty, who desperately plays the modest housewife trying to placate her irate husband. Robert Michael Hanson delivers a suave and charming Conrad Birdie with a still, grounded presence, and a sweet, husky voice. Of course, the show is completely stolen by the legion of screaming teenage girls who are truly the heart and soul of this All-American musical.
Supporting the cast was a vibrant array of color presented by the Costume Designer Carole Lanham and Set Design Team of Chris Lanham, Ellie Lanham, Arturo Latimer, and Carole Lanham. Both set and costumes were clean and simple, although scene transitions did hold the audience in the dark for longer than expected. Music Director Colin Healy leads the cast through the tuneful score with few missed notes, and the musicians provided a significantly solid support to the singers. A highlight of the show was the strength of the dancers, led by choreographer Julie Garey, allowing several key moments of the narrative to be led in delightful, and humorous dance.
Director Katy Leigh Gilda-Fry, who obviously carries a great love and passion for the show, created an atmosphere for the audience. The invitation is very open to joining these characters and their story, and much of the action is played below the stage on the steps, at the audience level. Although, if you plan to see this production, I would advise arriving early to find good seats. For the audience sitting behind the first few rows, much of the action was blocked from sight whenever the cast descended the stage stairs.
There are five more chances to see this effervescent production. Bye Bye Birdie is running at the O’Fallon Municipal Centre (100 North Main Street O’Fallon, MO) November 3-5, and 10-12 Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $8 for seniors (ages 55+), and $2 (ages 2-5). Discount rate for groups of 10 or more. For more information please visit www.ofallon.mo.us/parks&rec or call at 636-474-2REC (2732).