If you can remember Elvis Presley’s teen-traumatizing entry into the Army after being drafted in the late 1950s, you’ll no doubt feel a strong tug of déjà vu at the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton where Bye, Bye Birdie – a musical comedy based on a singer’s soldierly stint, but which blazes a circuitous story of its own, is now playing.
Elvis’ military gig is vintage history. But Bye Bye Birdie remains packed with oomph. The63-year-old, tune-filled bit of humorous fluff continues to entertain with its whimsical selection of songs, fancy dancing and a plot that’s a tad silly and sometimes weak, but worth a gaggle of giggles, nonetheless.
Director Norb Joerder, a Broadway and Wick favorite, assembles an extraordinarily adept cast. Multitalented choreographer Cat Pagano taps her own capabilities to create fancy cast footwork. And top-notch musical director Bobby Peaco takes charge of the tunes.
The main focus of BBB is a rock star named “Conrad Birdie,” a moniker based on a real-life ‘50s vocalist, Conway Twitty – an early Elvis rival who became a famed country singer.
Portraying Birdie is Cole, the Wick’s resident Elvis doppelganger. He played “The King” in last year’s Million Dollar Quartet, so he knows his Ps and Qs about R ‘n’ R.
When the draft sweeps in on Mr. Birdie, his legion of fanatic female fans scattered nationwide goes crazy. But no one is more scattered than Albert Peterson (actor/vocalist extraordinaire Jeremy Benton), owner of a failing recording company.
Birdie is about to record a tune that Petersen feels could save the floundering firm. But the Army sings Birdie a different song – “You’re in the Army now,” putting the kibosh on Peterson’s plan.
At that moment, Albert’s secretary/girlfriend Rosie Alvarez (energetically portrayed by Leah Sessa) threatens to quit for lack of affection and pay. But Albert devises a plan to take care of the company debt and seal his relationship with Rosie.
Before Birdie heads for boot camp, he postulates, the singer will kiss a lucky teen-age fan while singing “One Last Kiss” — a song Albert will write. With revenue from record sales, he’ll pay off the balance due and close the company – knowing his overly-doting mother, Mae (brilliantly portrayed by veteran actor Lourelene Snedeker) will have a fit.
Rosie likes the idea and kicks off the scheme by reaching into a file of Conrad Birdie Fan Club members and pulling the name of Kim MacAfee (Alexandra Van Hasselt), a sweet girl from Sweet Apple, Ohio.
The news extends to members of fan club members via a multitude of phone calls (“The Telephone Hour”). It also reaches TV host Ed Sullivan, who wants to feature the bye-bye kiss on his live TV show.
Once Peterson, Rosie and Conrad arrive in Sweet Apple, preparations begin for the Sullivan shot. But it’s a rocky road – and we meet some oddball characters like Albert’s aforementioned bossy mom, Kim’s jealous boyfriend, Hugo (Cody Knable) and her short-tempered, easily frustrated father, Harry (Ben Sandomir).
Soon, all eyes are on the Sullivan gig. But Hugo, livid over the attention Kim is giving Conrad, runs onto the stage during the broadcast and before Birdie can kiss Kim, Hugo smacks him in the face. It drops Conrad – and brings down the Act I curtain.
Fallout from the punch ignites a disorder-loaded Act II, one overflowing with jealousy, anger and general mayhem. Rosie dumps Albert and takes a walk – no, make that a run — on the wild side, freeing her untapped inhibitions in stage-filling abundance.
Kim also drops Hugo, but the parting is short. And in a rare show of guts, normally meek Albert tells his mother off, urging her to “go home.” Continuing the peculiar antics she’s displayed throughout the show, Mae – with angst and great reluctance — finally gives in.
At this point, Albert brings the chaos to an amiable halt by putting mom and Conrad on a train back to New York. As citizens’ overwrought emotions subside, the town returns to normal and Albert finally turns his attention to Rosie.
What really keeps Bye, Bye, Birdie on track is a first-rate musical score. Several tunes are still popular. In one scene, Albert sings and tap dances to “Put on a Happy Face” to cheer a couple of teens morose when Conrad departs.
Kim’s mom (Dalia Aleman) and dad musically unleash their frustrations over their inability to grasp the behavior of modern-day young people by launching a witty ditty called “Kids” – a comic generational observation.
One of the best performances features Birdie himself, who, tired of living with the MacAfees, decides to get out and party hearty on his last night as a civilian. His hearty, up-tempo rendition of “A Lot of Living to Do” brings lots of teens to join him, dancing and swinging to the Birdie beat.
Director Joerder heaps praise on the show, saying it “celebrates the innocence, energy and excitement of the ‘50s with warmth, hilarity and an exuberant score.”
Bye Bye Birdie plays through Dec. 24 at the Wick Theater, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Tickets are available at www.TheWick.org or by calling the box office at 561-995-2333.
A Massachusetts native who moved to Florida in 2000, he is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston, with honors degrees in English and Journalism. In New England, he worked for the Attleboro (Mass.) Sun Chronicle and the Pawtucket (R.I.) Times, the latter for 28 years. After moving to Florida, he worked as a copy editor at the Palm Beach Daily News, and, in 2001, became a reporter and later, city editor, at the Boca
Raton News where he worked for eight years.