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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
BYE BYE BIRDIE
at Henry Miller’s Theatre

PUT ON A HAPPY FACE...PLEASE
By BILL STEVENSON

  Nolan Gerard Funk and company/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Packed with crowd-pleasing songs that haven’t lost their zing after almost half a century, Bye Bye Birdie has finally made it back to Broadway. The Roundabout’s revival, directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom, is exuberant, colorful, and fun. Like most Roundabout productions, this one has a cast headed by movie and TV stars. John Stamos and Gina Gershon have plenty of stage experience, but neither sings well and both are miscast. Charming and handsome, Stamos is hardly a jolly song-and-dance man like Dick Van Dyke (whose career took off thanks to Birdie). And no matter how hard Gershon tries to be a Latin spitfire (in the role originated by Chita Rivera), she just isn’t.
 
On the plus side, the teenage roles are played by actual teenagers—or at least young actors who convincingly pass for teens. Book writer Michael Stewart got the idea for the story from hip-swiveling teen idol Elvis Presley. In Bye Bye Birdie the much-adored rock star is Conrad Birdie (Robert Hager, who replaced Nolan Gerard Funk at the performance I attended). Birdie is about to join the Army, but his manager Albert Peterson (Stamos) wants to send him off with a bang. He chooses one of Conrad’s devoted fans, Kim MacAfee (Allie Trimm) of Sweet Apple, Ohio, to be the lucky girl Birdie will kiss on The Ed Sullivan Show.
 
Most young audience members probably have never heard of Ed Sullivan and will have only a vague idea of the sensation caused by Elvis. But Stewart’s book, Lee Adams’ lyrics, and especially Charles Strouse’s music remain breezily, buoyantly entertaining. Longbottom and the company do a great job with ensemble numbers like “The Telephone Hour” and “One Last Kiss.” But when Stamos and Gershon have to carry a song, they aren’t up to the challenge. It’s not Stamos’ fault that “Put on a Happy Face” became a signature tune for Van Dyke, but Stamos doesn’t put his stamp on the song (or the role for that matter). Stamos is handsome and likable, but there are many Broadway singers who would make a better Albert. Gershon, who was terrific in the Broadway revival of Boeing-Boeing, is certainly sexy enough to play Rose, Albert’s secretary and girlfriend. The role requires a strong singer, however, and Gershon’s voice is not one of her more striking assets.
 
Bill Irwin is a clever choice to play Henry MacAfee, Kim’s extremely square father. Longbottom gives the actor-clown lots of physical comedy, which Irwin pulls off in his inimitable style. But the director should have nixed Irwin’s affected speaking and singing. Instead of being funny, his voice is just distracting. (Paul Lynde created the part on Broadway, and his braying voice came naturally.) As Albert’s mother Mae, who disapproves of Rose, Jayne Houdyshell brings freshness to a stock character. Dee Hoty is appealing as Mrs. MacAfee, Trimm sings sweetly as Kim, and Matt Doyle is just right as Kim’s put-upon boyfriend.
 
Funk missed two performances due to tonsillitis, and Hager filled in nicely as Conrad Birdie. Though he looks too young for the role (resembling a teenage Leonardo DiCaprio), Hager dances as well as he sings: His pelvic thrust in “Honestly Sincere” would make the King proud.
 
The first production in the Roundabout’s beautiful new Henry Miller Theatre, Bye Bye Birdie has a bright look that suits the musical’s upbeat spirit. (Andrew Jackness designed the sleek sets, and Gregg Barnes did the color-coordinated costumes.) The songs still sound peppy, and the young cast members practically burst with energy. As for Stamos and Gershon, they make a very attractive couple, but they don’t make beautiful music.  
 


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