Birdie in Barboursville

Cast Photo Courtesy of:

Cast Photo Courtesy of:

Birdie in Barboursville

 -Theatre Review by Diana Momford

The musical, Bye Bye Birdie was written in 1960 by Michael Stewart, with lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse. The show later inspired a film by the same name in 1963. The storylines of both the musical and the film is based on Elvis Presley’s real-life antics and the pop-culture drama surrounding the 1950s American heartthrob being drafted into the army. Who could forget Elvis’ last civilian kiss? A picture perfect moment ripe with financial opportunity. In Bye Bye Birdie, Almaelou, a fictional recording company plots the same marketing gimmick for their own rock star sensation, Conrad Birdie.

Barboursville, VA’s Four County Players’ revival of the satirical musical is a sweet reminder of days gone by. The show boasts a large cast—over forty members—and is excellently choreographed by director Geri Carlson Sauls. Directing so many people’s movements in such a small stage area is difficult, but the majority of the cast danced with ease. The transitions between scenes and musical numbers are relatively seamless, aided by the cast staying in character during these times. Likewise, Steve Bliss’ two-story stage design is visually intriguing and offers additional space to spread out the large cast. Once the music starts, the actors move energetically, using the entire stage.

Starry-eyed Kim is excellently cast. Kylie Green is convincing as the naïve teenager. Her exuberant interactions with the rest of the actors as well as hitting the high notes in her numbers with ease make her a captivating performer. Kim’s idol, the smarmy Conrad Birdie (Steven Anzuini) is a vision in gold lamé. His posturing as the darling of quintessential small-town America, Sweet Apple, Ohio, also creates a persuasive performance.

Kim’s parents, Harry (Randy Clark) and Doris (Laurie Lowrance) also deliver terrific performances. At times, Clark lays it on a little thick, complete with over the top grimaces and exaggerated movements, but otherwise his role as the overbearing father is well played. Lowrance plays a great contrast to him. She presents a natural, relaxed demeanor that is still animated and interesting.

The play, however, is not without its flaws. Much of the younger cast comprising the ensembles are largely inexperienced and visibly uncomfortable on stage. Their scenes are rife with over acting—perhaps a result of opening night excitement and jitters. Additionally, the ear-splitting chorus of screams from Birdie’s fan club at each mention of their idol, force members of the audience to cover their ears. The cheers may be realistic, but their high pitch and volume detract from the viewing experience.

Criticism isn’t limited to the younger, inexperienced cast members. The lack of chemistry between Albert Peterson (Marc Schindler) and Rose Alvarez (Elena Taylor) renders their alleged eight-year romantic relationship unconvincing. Eventually, during her brief dalliance with leaving Albert, Rose comes alive as “Spanish Rose.” She dances and sashays across the stage, finally an independent woman. Though she is merely playing at being a loose woman by flirting with other men, Taylor’s portrayal of Rose’s alter-ego makes her character feel more three-dimensional. Her eventual reversion to the role of Albert’s second fiddle seems as improbable as it is dismaying.

There is more magnetism between Albert and his mother, Mae Peterson, played by Wendy Novicoff. Wendy’s portrayal of the martyred mother is spot on. Novicoff and Schindlers’ interactions as mother and son are amusing, with Novicoff’s humor carrying the scenes.

Regardless of palpable faults,  Bye Bye Birdie’s opening night was a success. The cast’s comedic deliveries, heavy-handed as they were, scored guffaws from the audience and the live music (directed by J. Tara Scott) was a treat.  In all likelihood, the cast members can overcome their opening night nerves and hit their stride in future performances. Bye Bye Birdie is playing at Four County Players in Barboursville, VA through March 30, 2014.


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