There’s Real Community in this Community Theater: BYE BYE BIRDIE at MTC!

by Arlene Price Kohler

Rick Williams leads a great cast in “Put On A Happy Face” in Moorestown Theater Company’s standout production of BYE BYE BIRDIE. (Photo credit: Baldwin Photo)

Moorestown Theater Company stays true to the dictionary meaning of community. There is a place for everyone here. No auditions are necessary for chorus roles, anyone can be in the chorus. Young children must be accompanied by a relative on stage. And that is how one of the leads in tonight’s performance of BYE BYE BIRDIE came to take the stage.

Most people know Rick Williams from WPVI-TV News ( I must admit that I am not generally a news watcher, so while the name had a familiar ring I couldn’t remember why….hence good old Google came into play. Ahhh…recognition…Mr. Williams…I recognize that face! On Friday I had the pleasure of meeting Rick–dad, husband, community member and, well–just generally a really nice guy. It seems Rick and his wife, Jocelyn came to be in tonight’s production of BYE BYE BIRDIE because they had, as a family, seen one of MTC’s productions and their son had shown an interest in taking to the stage. This inclusionary practice gives this theater group a wonderful heartfelt sense of community.

I have never experienced this approach to community theater. It always seemed to me that the aspirations of the production staff was to achieve a result as close to a Broadway show as possible. Likewise some of the critical reviews ( maybe even my own ) would almost seem to look for things to criticize, seemingly unaware of monetary or other limiting issues. And so as I watched tonight’s performance my ever critical back seat director’s eye was open, for what could have been done better on the tech end, on whose performance was weak, whose vocals were a little off key. Of course, I looked for standouts, too, from actors and directors, to costumers and set designers, to folks in the ensemble. Examining the acting, the dancing, and especially in a musical, the singing. But tonight after the show talking to Annette De Rosa, producer and Mark Morgan, director (both on the board of trustees of MTC), I have a different take on community theater, in particular this theater group and its productions. The little trivial stuff doesn’t seem to matter. Were there bobbles? Sure. Ever see a local community theater show that was flawless? Probably not, although some may have come close.

So let’s start with tonight’s big name headliner, Rick Williams. Blessed with a great smile and plenty of charm, Rick appears much younger in person and on stage than on my TV screen. His acting is very good as is his voice and he makes Albert a believable character, not the typical comedic ‘Bumsteady’ mama’s boy. And the man can tap dance! Rosie, in tonight’s cast is portrayed by Dana Kares, gives one of the best performances of the evening. Lovely to look at with a beautiful voice and good acting skills. I especially enjoyed listening to her sing ‘An English Teacher’s Wife’. Her dance numbers were executed with grace and beauty. Just perfect, I thought. Kim MacAfee, portrayed by Sarah Cheatham, has some cute moves and a nice voice with a lot of promise. She handles some pretty tough dance moves in ‘Such a Lot of Livin to Do’. Kudos to the rest of the kids in this number–it was a real standout. Debbi Nanni-Zacher has the audience laughing as she breaks the 4th wall and plays it right to them. Bruce Jordon as Harry MacAfee handles the role well….at the top and not over. Good job, Danny Pizzi, you have a nice singing voice, even if dad is always telling you to shut up! Lizi Baldwin as Ursula gives a terrific performance, good acting and dancing skills and an all together really nice stage presence. Steve Gionta as Conrad, gave a nice performance including a little Elvis channeling with that wicked hip action! Oh and one more note: Renee Walsh…I heard your lovely voice loud and clear..thank you.

Steve Gionta as Conrad Birdie, “channeling Elvis” in Moorestown Theater Company’s rendition of BYE BYE BIRDIE. (Photo credit: Baldwin Photo)

All things considered this was a nice production. The orchestra, under the direction of Steve Schaffner, is really strong, no sour notes here and quite nice flute playing by Barb Quimby. I like how the orchestra is used during set changes to smooth the transitions. The directing is well done and Jody Haggerty’s choreography is quite entertaining. The set design by Chris Resavy was clever and attractive and works well with the overall costume color design. The costuming seems well thought out, thanks to Carol Anne Murray and Thom Sirkot with help from Kelly Devery and Lenny Shepherd and the cast. The Spanish Rose dress is quite clever. It is hard to find pants for this era as what is out there is all cut so low on the hip, but the costumer used a clever trick by putting white leotards under the tied up shirts thereby hiding bare bellies and especially buttons which never would have been seen in the 50’s ( even a bikini had a natural waistline).

And back to community in community theater: all the actors portraying the mayor (5) as well as the mayor’s wife (2) are local political figures. A nice touch! So folks, get out there and enjoy…there’s such a lot of living to do.

Book by Michael Stewart
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Lee Adams
Directed by Mark Morgan
July 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27 @ 7 PM
July 21, 27 @ 2 PM
Moorestown Theater Company
William Allen Middle School
801 N. Stanwick Road
Moorestown, NJ 08057

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Renee Walsh July 26, 2013 - 7:41 am

You hit the nail on the head Arlene. An all inclusive safe place to have fun and stretch your imagination and creativity. I am blessed to be able to perform w/this company w/my grandson, the little dragon pj’d boy in the Kids Reprise. Thanks for the great review!

graciem113 August 4, 2013 - 8:03 pm

Thank you for the great review, Mrs. Kohler! I was so thrilled to be in this musical as a teen (I am pictured with a psychotic expression on my face in the second picture- to the left.) and am glad you enjoyed it. It’s been so much fun performing with my theatre family and I cannot wait to return!


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