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Lyric Theatre kicks off 50th season with 'Bye Bye Birdie'

Watching a production of “Bye Bye Birdie” is a bit like tuning in to Antiques Roadshow. You're curious what the 52-year old Lee Adams/Charles Strouse musical might be worth. There are no missing parts but the veneer is faded and the plot is decidedly quaint. So what's its value?
BY YOUR NAME Staff Writer email@opubco.com Published: July 3, 2012
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"Bye Bye Birdie" presented by Lyric Theatre will be staged through Saturday. Photo by Wendy Mutz

Watching a production of “Bye Bye Birdie” is a bit like tuning in to Antiques Roadshow. You're curious what the 52-year old Lee Adams/Charles Strouse musical might be worth. There are no missing parts but the veneer is faded and the plot is decidedly quaint. So what's its value?

Compared to other musicals of its era, “Birdie” scores more points than “Bells Are Ringing” and “Mr. President” but is outclassed by the hardier “Gypsy” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” One could say “Birdie” falls in the largest group of a bell curve.

Lyric Theatre opened its 50th season with “Birdie,” the tale of a pop singer (inspired by Elvis Presley) who has been drafted into the Army. As a publicity stunt, he will bestow a kiss on one member of his rabid teen fan club before reporting for military duty.

Directed and choreographed by Lyn Cramer, Lyric's third outing with “Birdie” has been given a new look. Gone are the Hollywood Squares-inspired cubes that have long been the setting for the giddy “Telephone Hour.” Adam Koch's attractive set design conjures images of “Mad Men” for the show's New York scenes, and “Pleasantville” for the Sweet Apple, Ohio setting.

Age hasn't been especially kind to the characters in Michael Stewart's book. There's a harried father who's frustrated by his daughter's desire to be all grown up, a spineless promoter who won't stand up to his mother, and the singer whose every sneer and pelvic thrust recall Elvis.

That's not to say that the cast members portraying these roles aren't capable. They're just stuck with stock characters who could populate a dozen different musicals. And while the show's dialogue was topical when “Birdie” premiered in 1960, how many people today are familiar with Arpege, Postum and Sammy Kaye?

Fortunately, Lyric's cast has its share of scene stealers, beginning with Charlotte Franklin as Mae Peterson, the put-upon, woe-is-me mother who still keeps a tight rein on her 33-year old son Albert. Franklin's best attributes are her range of marvelous facial expressions and line deliveries that make every punch line land.

Mandy Jiran is delightfully daft as Doris MacAfee, a homemaker who looks as if she just stepped out of a 1950's-era sitcom. Barb Schoenhofer plays both the mayor's wife and the voluptuous typist Gloria, the former scoring laughs as she falls under Birdie's spell, and the latter, silently counting her not-so-smooth dance steps that end hysterically in an awkward display of the splits.

Paul Lynde is never lurking far behind Monte Riegel Wheeler's take on Harry MacAfee, the crazed father who leads the cast in the delightful “Kids” and then attempts to worm his way into every scene when the family appears on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Meredith Tyler's Kim MacAfee and Elliot Mattox's Hugo Peabody are more problematic. Tyler easily conveys her character's desire to be grown up but her costuming and hair style separate her too much from her giddy peers. It's also too much of stretch to believe that Kim would fall for Hugo, portrayed here by a miscast Mattox who's never fully convincing as a heartthrob.

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