With every decade that passes, the 1950s become more and more of a curiosity; it was in many ways the real beginning of the modern era of American pop culture, yet looking at it sometimes feels like observing an ancient culture. Or at least one that’s a lot older than it seemed when I first saw BYE BYE BIRDIE as a teen in the ‘80s. In the Wilmington Drama League’s program for the Chrysalis Players’ presentation show, there’s a glossary to explain who Ed Sullivan, Ingrid Bergman, and Mussolini were. Unlike other popular 50s/60s shows like GREASE and HAIRSPRAY, BYE BYE BIRDIE is actually a product of the time, making it a full-on flashback in full skirts.
The Chrysalis Players production has all the humor, dancing and romance one would expect from the classic show. If you’re not familiar with the storyline, it centers around a music agent and his longtime assistant who devise a “one last kiss” television promotion when their superstar client, the Elvis-like Conrad Birdie, is drafted into the U.S. Army. A young fan, Kim MacAfee, is chosen, and her hometown goes crazy.
The BIRDIE cast is a mix of experienced local actors and high school students — it’s a teen-heavy play, with over 20 kids in the ensemble. As Kim MacAfee, the fresh-faced Erin Foltz brings an innocence to the role of a girl teetering between childhood and womanhood. As her steady boyfriend (and this was a time when “going steady” really meant something), Hugo, Jameson May is appropriately sweet and goofy. Kim’s Conrad-crazy best friend, Ursula, needs to be a scene stealer, and Amanda DePhillipis does it every time she’s on stage. Kim’s parents, played by Ed Elder and Megan M.F. Everhart, and her younger brother, played by Gregory Stanard, flesh out the picture-perfect small-town family with humor and heart.
Though the MacAfee’s are central to the story, the real stars of the show are Adam J. Wahlberg as the music agent Albert and Ashley Butler as his long-suffering assistant-slash-sweetheart, Rosie. I last saw Wahlberg in CTC’s BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, where he stood out in multiple roles; Albert is a part that requires skilled timing and physical comedy, and he nails it. Butler is lovely, her Rosie sympathetic, especially when Albert’s meddling mother (Lauren Eckbold) shows up.
The show’s namesake, Conrad Birdie, is a relatively minor role played spot-on by Jeff Gorcyca. He croons, he shakes and he plays it cool, with a dash of dim.
Technically, the production was a bit of a roller coaster, though usually not distractingly so. Only some of the actors were mic’d, while others were not — sometimes in the same scene or even in duets. I prefer the vocals to not be mic’d in general, if the actors have strong enough voices, but if some actors are mic’d, all of them should be if at all possible. I suspect it wasn’t possible in this case, but it did detract a bit at times.
Still, this was a highly entertaining production with great casting, and a great, nostalgic way to spend a summer evening.
BYE BYE BIRDIE
Presented by the Chrysalis Players
Book by Michael Stewart
Lyrics by Lee Adams
Directed by Tina M. Sheing
Music Direction by Genevieve Van-Catledge
Choreography by Tommy Fisher-Klein
June 15-24, 2012
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Boulevard
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