Lively BIRDIE in the Pinelands

by Jessica Martin

The cast of Pineland Players’ BYE BYE BIRDIE running in Medford Lakes, NJ through August 18.

Pineland Players’ choice of BYE BYE BIRDIE as their summer musical is a happy one. This lightly satirical musical, set in the 1950s, seems to appeal to all ages. It tells of a famous rock superstar whose impending induction into the army has far-reaching effects on the citizens of the small town of Sweet Apple, Ohio. Most people know who the superstar was in real life. Albert Peterson (Dave Ferris), songwriter-agent for Conrad Birdie (a name based on that of another rock star, Conway Twitty), doesn’t quite know what to do when Conrad (Erich Schmal) is drafted. But Albert’s clever secretary and girlfriend, Rosie Alvarez (Arielle Thomas), has a brilliant idea for a publicity stunt. Conrad will sing Albert’s song “One Last Kiss” on the Ed Sullivan Show and actually kiss a girl chosen from his fan club. After this, Rosie wants Albert to quit the music business, marry her and become an English teacher.

The lucky girl chosen is Kim McAfee (Emily Chant), whose steady boyfriend, Hugo Peabody (Dylan Paulson) is jealous when he hears about the kiss. Conrad is warmly welcomed to Sweet Apple and serenaded by a chorus of teenagers singing “We Love You, Conrad.” But when Conrad is actually on the Ed Sullivan Show and about to deliver the kiss to Kim, Hugo suddenly appears and decks him. Meanwhile, Albert’s interfering, racist mother tries to break up Albert and the Hispanic Rosie by introducing a brassy blonde, Gloria Rasputin (Sammi Kristie) as Albert’s new secretary. Kim and Rosie are furious and break up with their boyfriends—reacting, especially in Rosie’s case, in a spectacular manner. Some wild adventures ensue before matters resolve.

The lively, mostly youthful cast, under the direction of Laurel Hutt Thomas, exudes an infectious enthusiasm that the audience can’t help sharing. Thomas as Rosie and Ferris as Albert contribute outstanding performances. Chant is a winsome Kim, and Schmal makes Conrad a much more likable character than he usually is. Rachel Ulriksen is outrageously hilarious as Albert’s domineering mother. The singing (vocal direction by Nancy DiYenno) and dancing (choreography by Fay Schanne) are superb. There isn’t room to mention everyone, but Kristie’s dance as Gloria Rasputin has to be seen to be believed. The score boasts many catchy, familiar songs such as “Put on a Happy Face,” “Kids,” and “A Lot of Livin’ to Do.” A nice touch was the slide show at the beginning,

depicting scenes from the 50s that doubtless brought back memories to older audience members and really evoked the period. Steve Lottes’ stylized set is an ideal background for the action. If there is one adverse criticism, it is of the sound amplification system, which made some of the voices seem garbled at the beginning, but gradually improved as the evening went on.

Pineland Players perform in the Neeta School Theater, an all-purpose room in the Neeta School.  It isn’t hard to find because there are signs to guide you through the Medford Lakes Trails. BYE BYE BIRDIE has one more weekend to run. Performances start at 7:30 pm. There is one 2:00 pm matinee on August 18. This show is highly recommended.

Book by Michael Stewart
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Lee Adams
Directed by Laurel Hutt Thomas
August 10-18, 2012
Pineland Players
Neeta School
44 Neeta Trail
Medford Lakes, NJ 08055

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