WASHINGTON TERRACE — The 1960 musical Bye Bye Birdie is one of those shows that almost everyone involved with local community theatre has been a part of. Even I, your local humble theatre critic, was in a production of this bubbly fun musical when in high school. (I admit to having more than a little nostalgia when it comes to Bye Bye Birdie for this very reason.) It is such a great show for community theatre because it is about a family and small town, and it features lots of energetic songs and opportunities for big group numbers that lots of actors of different age groups can participate in. Now through May 27, the good folks at Beverley’s Terrace Plaza Playhouse has mounted this classic show, and their production lives up to the musical’s entertaining reputation.
Bye Bye Birdie tells the story of an Elvis-like singer named Conrad Birdie, who (like Elvis did in 1957) is drafted into the army and looking for a memorable way to say goodbye to his fans. Meanwhile, his manager Albert Peterson is struggling with motivation for his career in music when his girlfriend/secretary Rose Alvarez creates a plan to have Conrad bestow a kiss on his biggest fan, 15-year-old Kim MacAfee from Sweetwater, Ohio. As Conrad and his team descend on this unprepared small town, all chaos explodes on the scene, leading to lots of laughter and music.
While one of my favorite parts of Terrace Plaza is the community spirit in all of their shows, this is especially strong for Bye Bye Birdie. The company does not have the polish or perfection of some other local companies, but there is always the feeling that the cast and crew have become family and are united to produced the best show possible. I love seeing that in a community theatre. Director Melissa Trenery and choreographer Megan Call have excelled in building their cast’s talents and filling the stage with interesting action and movement.
Tyler O’Bagy plays Albert with a nerdy charm that helps us forgive his cluelessness when dealing with Rose (played by Maren Messerly). The two leads have a nice romantic chemistry that makes it believable that they have been dating for years. Messerly has a lovely voice that I enjoyed after the actress’s initial struggles with the low notes in “An English Teacher.” One of the play’s best moments is “Spanish Rose,” even though Lee Adams‘s lyrics are cringy for 21st century audiences.
The highlight of this production is any scene involving the teenagers. Aurora Nelson brings energy and a beautiful singing voice to Kim MacAfee in songs like “How Lovely to Be a Woman” and “One Boy.” River Nelson is a lot of fun as the leader of the Conrad Birdie fan club, Ursula Merkel. And I really appreciate they cast an actual teen (as casting a young adult is often the case) with JC Wangsgard in the role of Hugo Peabody, Kim’s boyfriend.
Boyad Hollingshead took me time to accept as Conrad, but he won me over bringing a lot of humor and physicality to the role. I have never seen a Conrad quite like him, but it worked especially in the “Honestly Sincere” number.
Michael Stewart‘s script for Bye Bye Birdie is showing its age, most apparently with the role of Mae Peterson, Albert’s mother. Meredith Carlson did a good job with the role, but a little of that character goes a long way. The character’s racist rants against Rose wear thin, but there is something admirable about how the way Carlson stays committed to creating a flawed character. I just wish the script could be updated so that Charles Strouse‘s score could be heard more often.
In regards to technical elements, my favorite part of the production was the teens’ costumes by a team consisting of Jim Tatton, Stephanie Peterson, and Jacci Florence. The midcentury tea length dresses, poodle skirts, and capri pants looked great on the girls and their large “I Love Conrad” buttons were very cute. In the opening number for the teens “Telephone Hour” they use boxes with colored lighting for the teens to sit in and I adored the bright aesthetic it creates on stage. It would have been nice to see more of those boxes throughout the show, but it was neat way to showcase that number, with help from the lighting design by Mark Ellis and Dani Loveland. The stage (designed by Kate Rufener and Nathan Fawcett) helped the director use the entire stage well, especially with an upstairs portions for Kim’s bedroom set, ice house, and train station.
It is always a joyous experience to see a classic musical like Bye Bye Birdie with a community spirit like they have at Terrace Plaza. The production is not perfect, but that is part of the charm of experiencing local theatre together and having a fun, effervescent bop together as both performers and audience. Take the whole family and put on a happy face as they watch Bye Bye Birdie.