OREM — Bye Bye Birdie was one of the first pieces of musical theatre that I was ever introduced to. My mother was in a production of Bye, Bye, Birdie as a student at West Wood High School and years later she would reenact the lines she had, or sing the songs she sang, as we would watch the 1963 film version. It’s been quite some time since I’ve had contact with the musical, so I was excited as I made my way to the SCERA Center for the Arts to see Bye Bye Birdie.
This 1960 musical (book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse) has enjoyed a long and healthy life. It’s been produced on stages across America for over 50 years, and it’s been adapted to film twice. Bye Bye Birdie has been produced so many times, that you almost know what to expect when you go see it, which isn’t always bad thing. Bye Bye Birdie at the SCERA Center for the Arts surprised me however. It exceeded my expectations, and I had a lot of fun.
I don’t want to sound like I went to the theatre expecting to dislike Bye, Bye, Birdie. I expected I would have laugh, that I would enjoy myself, and that I would leave feeling lighter. All of that happened, and then some! This production, directed by Kathryn and Howard Little, was presented by SCERA’s award-winning high school company, Acting UP, and after seeing it, I can understand why they are award winning.
Cody Whitlock brought charm and warmth to the role of Albert Peterson, the English teacher turned music agent. He topped it off with some lovely dancing and welcoming vocals. He was gentle and kind, and I could easily believe that he would be a wonderful English teacher. Megan Hill’s Rosie Alvarez was a spunky stand out who was not afraid to do what she had to in order to get what she wanted. I had no trouble believing that she could turn the heads of every Shriner present during the “Shiner Ballet.” Maren Wilson tapped perfectly into the too-big-for-my-britches-ness of Kim MacAfee, the fifteen going on thirty President of the Conrad Birdie fan club. It was a joy to see her explore the teenage desire to be an adult, while maintaining a frightened curiosity of what the real world has to offer.
Christian Wawro played the Elvis Presley-inspired teen heartthrob Conrad Birdie, a role that Wawro definitely had the hips for. I was impressed at his commitment to each hip thrust and pelvic gyration. As he sang “Honestly Sincere,” I felt like all the girls on stage were “honestly and sincerely” swooning as he thrust in their direction or crooned an inch away from their face. My only wish is that I could hear him better. I’m not sure if this was microphone issue, but I lost some of his lyrics, simply because I could not hear them.
A special mention needs to be made for Hannah Smith for the extremely high-pitched vocals she brought to the role of Ursula Merkle, Kim’s friend and gung-ho member of the Conrad Birdie fan club. I was constantly amazed at how Smith was able to squeak out her lines with the fervor and timbre of a field mouse that had stumbled across a lifetime supply of cheese. It was absolutely delightful. Other notable performances came from Melissa Brown (as Mrs. Mae Peterson) and Brennon Schow as Hugo Peabody. Brown’s delivery on every line was perfectly in character, and her physicality in her role was just the cherry on top of a hilarious performance. Schow’s performance as the sweet and lovable Hugo was just that: sweet and lovable. Every time he entered the stage, I let out an audible, “Aww.” I was rooting for him the whole time.
Every member of the chorus, both the “Teens” and the “Adults,” impressed me. Everyone was engaged and focused on stage, complete with unique personality for their character. I was drawn in by all the many specific choices the actors were making. For instance, as Conrad Birdie sang “Honestly Sincere,” each actress on stage responded with her own unique choices. I saw girls fainting, other girls shoving to get closer, and some girls were even trying to catch of whiff of Conrad. Each specific choice added so much to the production as a whole. They were all individuals, and not just one hive of shrieking teenagers.
Another aspect of the production that exceeded my expectations was the costuming, designed by Danielle Berry. It can be difficult to find period costumes for a cast of ten, but for a cast of thirty or more it can be almost impossible. The costuming was appropriate for the time period, and added a colorful dimension to the entire production.
I felt that there were only two elements of the production that caused disconnect for me, the first being the transitions into the songs. One song where I can particularly remember being confused was “Put on a Happy Face.” The song felt as if it had fallen out of the sky and into the actors’ lap. The scene leading into the song did not build enough to warrant a breakout into song and dance, so unfortunately it took a few stanzas to feel comfortable with the song. This transition issues between scene and songs happened several times throughout the production, but not frequently enough that is turned me off completely.
The other hang-up for me was the pacing and energy of the second act. After an entire act of the most awe-inspiring banshee shrieking, I can understand how it can be difficult to keep the same energy in an act that has almost no shrieking written into it. Unfortunately, I felt this production dropped the energy in the second act. It felt slow at times, and the excitement was lost in most of the songs and dances. Again, this was a minor setback, and nothing that should keep anyone from attending.
It is clear to me that these young actors and actresses worked incredibly hard on this production. It was a very entertaining evening of youth theatre, and I recommend that you see it if you have an available night night. The hard work and dedication of these young people deserves to be seen by everyone. Bring friends, buy a bucket of popcorn and enjoy an entertaining exhibition of talented and eager youth from Utah Valley. If anything, go to see the shrieking teenagers. Trust me, you’ve never heard screaming like this!