BYE BYE BIRDIE Brings 50s Music and Laughs to WDL

by Holly Quinn

Adam Wahlberg & Dance ensemble in Wilmington Drama League’s BYE BYE BIRDIE. (Photo credit: Wilmington Drama League)

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.

Adam Wahlberg (sitting); Ashley Butler (standing) in a scene from WDL’s BYE BYE BIRDIE. (Photo credit: Wilmington Drama League)

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.

(Clockwise from top) Ed Elder; Megan Everheart;
Gregory Standard; Erin Foltz star in BYE BYE BIRDIE at the Wilmington Drama League in Wilmington DE through June 24. (Photo credit: Wilmington Drama League)

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.

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
Wilmington, DE

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James June 20, 2012 - 9:36 pm

Are you sure you went to the Bye Bye Birdie production at the Wilmington Drama League? I took my family this past weekend, paid for $63 in tickets for the five of us, and we all kept exchanging looks with each other at just how sloppy and poorly done this production was. Pitchy singing, wooden acting and set pieces with musical symbols on them left poking out on stage the whole time. There were some competent performances, to be sure, but the overall experience was just so utterly unwatchable. The above review could not possibly be for the show we saw.

WDL Girl June 22, 2012 - 11:33 pm

I am part of the chorus and hope that our scenes did not hurt your ears. Everyone in the cast is sorry that you did not enjoy your time at the drama league and we don’t want you to think badly of the WDL as a whole.

Sally June 22, 2012 - 11:43 pm

I have to agree with James. I have been to multiple shows at the drama league and really question the quality of this show. While the ensemble was filled with a lot of talent, 3 of the 4 leads were awful. Neither Rosie nor Kim could handle the songs that were required of the role. There were plenty of others in the cast who seemed to have the ability to carry these roles. The dancing by the cast was wonderful, but Rosie couldn’t dance and that is key for the part. On a positive note Albert was wonderful; thankfully he was able to carry most of the scenes he shared with Rosie. I am hoping that I just hit an off night, because this was not a fun theater experience.

Barack Obama June 23, 2012 - 5:46 pm

Sorry that our cast didn’t pleasure as you’d have expected. What would you expect from a bunch of kids, some first time performers, and some people who just want to do what they love.

It’s quite easy to say whatever you’d like behind a computer screen, isn’t it?

Wendy June 24, 2012 - 11:12 pm

Sorry Barack …. but this is NOT school theatre, it’s community theatre and folks pay decent money to see a show. They shouldn’t expect a professional level production, but they should expect (and receive) a quality performance. Those in the audience should enjoy the experience.

Diane June 23, 2012 - 11:26 pm

I too saw the WDL’s Bye Bye Birdie and thoroughly enjoyed the production. I loved everything from the dancing to the acting to the singing. The performance was fantastic and executed well. I have been to many WDL productions and this one did not disappoint. I was amazed at the talent and drive especially with the young people in the show who work so hard for perfection. Being someone who has been involved in musical productions for the past 18 years (not with WDL), it takes an amazing amount of courage and discipline to not only audition, but also perform in front of people who have the ability to pick it apart. Yet this talented cast and crew still strive for perfection in their performance. I hope reading these unfavorable does not deter anyone from supporting WDL or other amazing local performing groups. To those in the cast and crew that read these comments, please continue to do your best and don’t let a few negative comments ruin your passion to strive for your best. Thank you for a wonderful show. I applaud your hard work!!! Well done!

John Davison June 23, 2012 - 11:27 pm

I’ve been to a number of other summer musicals at WDL with kids in them. Willy Wonka was amazingly entertaining and Oliver was terrific. Seussical was passable. No doubt the cast worked very hard in Bye Bye Birdie but it just felt to me like the show was thrown together. Too bad they wasted a great cast.

Dorothy June 24, 2012 - 8:25 pm

I agree with James, Sally, and John. Suggestion: check out HAIRSPRAY at the Thompson Theater at UD. Now THAT was a terrific show! It runs next weekend too. I saw BBB at WDL and I saw HAIRSPRAY. The difference was astounding. WDL usually puts on good shows, but BBB was a disappointment. HAIRSPRAY, on the other hand, was a delight!


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