PHOTO: John Richardson plays rock ‘n’ roll star Conrad Birdie and Emily Been is swooning teen Kim MacAfee in Attic Theatre’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” Photo from Attic Theatre Facebook
The show dials us back to 1963 and the story of teens gone giddy over a rock ‘n’ roll star (eeekkk!!!) who has been drafted into the Army (boo hoo hoo). But wait, there will be a thrill for one of his million-plus teen girl fans – a chance for ONE LAST KISS (awww) before he leaves in front of a ca-jillion TV viewers on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (EEEKKK!!! WOW GOSH).
Attic Theatre’s production (3½ stars out of 5) includes an army of kids in the teen ensemble roles, game adults in archaic roles (things ain’t what they used to be) and a pastel panache to the show’s look.
Creative: Music – Charles Strouse; lyrics – Lee Adams; book – Michael Stewart; director – Berray Billington; assistant director – Richelle Hudson; choreographer – Sophie Hough; stage manager – Kyle Conn; music director – Will Obst; vocal director – Kathy Pearson; scenic designer – Erick Gyrion; costume designer – Tricia Adams.
Cast: Albert Peterson – Dan Van Sickle; Rose “Rosie” Alvarez – Kara Winkel; Kim McAfee – Emily Been; Conrad Birdie – John Richardson; Ursula Merkle – Stephanie Morelock; Harvey Johnson – Joe Schwaller; Mrs. Doris MacAfee – Lesa Lamers; Mr. Harry MacAfee – David Been; Randolph MacAfee – Miles Borkowicz; Mae Petersen – Nancy Ernst; Hugo Peabody – Seth Hammen; Mayor of Sweet Apple – Dick Furniss; Mayor’s Wife – Karrie Been; Gloria Rasputin – Kelly Riesterer; Charles F. Maude – Bob Ernst; Sweet Apple Teenagers – Paul Been, Analiese Bradshaw, Megan Dumke, Tess Hurley, Carly Jossart, Jessi Krake, Lexi LaGrow, Brian Marx, Stephanie Morelock, Sam Schmalz, Gina Sayler, Joe Schwaller, Cyric Stults, Dru Swokowski, Ben Wears, Phil Wyman, Sara Clapps; Sweet Applet Parents – Lissa Barklow, Blake Doss, Bob Ernst, Kim Hammen, Chad Kennow, Lindsay MacDonald, Jenise Nolte, Kelly Riesterer; Sweet Apple Applesauce Cadets – Grace Guillette, Elise Johnson, Brianna Neuberger, Hannah Nolte, Jordan Quandt.
“An English Teacher” – Rosie
“The Telephone Hour” – Sweet Apple Teens
“How Lovely to Be a Woman” – Kim MacAfee
“Put on a Happy Face” – Albert, Sad Girls
“A Healthy, Normal, American Boy” – Albert, Rosie, Reporters, Teens and New Yorkers
“One Boy” – Kim and Friends.
“One Boy” (Reprise) – Rosie
“Honestly Sincere”– Conrad Birdie and Ensemble
“Hymn for a Sunday Evening” – Harry, Doris, Kim, Randolph and Neighbors
“One Last Kiss” – Conrad and Ensemble
“What Did I Ever See in Him?” – Rosie and Kim
“Kids” – Harry and Doris
“Baby, Talk to Me” – Albert and Male Quartet
“Kids” (Reprise) – Harry, Randolph and Sweet Apple Parents
“Spanish Rose” - Rosie
“Rosie” – Albert and Rosie
“Bye Bye Birdie” is a period piece for sure. In the performance I saw Sunday afternoon, jokes and period references fell flat. Not many people today know who Abby Dalton or Mr. Luce are (or were). Even this got no reaction: “She looks like Margaret Hamilton” – the Wicked Witch of the West in the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz.” Those are just a few of the back-when references.
Bright spots for director Berray Billington and company are the show’s youthful energy, a lively lead actor, colorful character acting, a few spunky songs and kind of living musical theater aura.
That last part means a view of what was popular and successful (the show won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical) a half century ago that today is quaint. Also, what worked then today can be a chore. For instance, the leading female role is done no favors in having to sing explainer songs that don’t have much melody to them.
Dan Van Sickle throws himself into his leading role with a level of energy that is hard to find. He’s all verve all the time, notably in the showcase song-and-dance tune, “Put on a Happy Face.” He plays Albert Petersen, agent to the Elvis Presley-like Conrad Birdie, the EGO-tistical rock star headed off to the Army. Albert’s business is failing, and he promises his soured sweetheart/secretary, Rosie Alvarez, that he’ll quit the business and do what he was trained for – teaching English. But first, the “One Last Kiss” publicity stunt.
Kara Winkel depicts well the enduring/angered Rosie role. John Richardson, particularly flashy in a gold lame suit, clicks as the me, me, me Conrad Birdie, whose songs include the mocking “Honestly Sincere.” Emily Been has fun as the perky, quirky Kim MacAfee, with her tongue-in-cheek “How Lovely to Be a Woman” right on. Nancy Ernst scores lots of laughs as Albert’s oh-woe-is-me mother, Mae; at one point, Mae, threatens to gas herself by sticking her head in the oven until Albert informs her it’s electric.
Some of the ensemble numbers have vitality. They include the oh-gosh-and-golly “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” (referring to Ed Sullivan’s show) and the things-will-never-change “Kids” (with parents going through a laundry list of grumbles).
Problematic: Follow spotlights that don’t follow well, and not enough spotlights for what one scene requires; an inconsistency in miking.
The set includes a large box pattern that dominates the stage. Pastels are all over – in coloring for framing, for movable panels, for garbage cans, and, spectacularly, in panels for the floor to ceiling stage curtain for “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
NEXT SEASON: “Father of the Bride,” “The Lion in Winter,” “The Addams Family.”
THE VENUE: The 361-seat, two-level James W. Perry Hall features a proscenium (flat-front) stage with a substantial performance area of 36 feet wide by 86 feet deep. Acoustic clouds are part of the ceiling. On the side walls are acoustic panels of copper color that matches the woodwork stain on seat backs and arms and on decorative square and rectangular wood panels. The theater is amply equipped and fairly new. The University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley Communication Arts Center opened in 2009. The adjacent lobby is spacious and includes a ticket office, snack service area, restrooms and spaces for art and photo displays.
THE NAMESAKE: James W. Perry is the former dean and campus executive officer of UWFV.
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