‘Bye Bye Birdie’ was exuberant.
Returning from 2020’s theatrical hibernation, Gold Coast Little Theatre bounces back with a bright, buoyant and cheerful production, ‘Bye Bye Birdie’. Performed with obvious excitement and appreciation, this zany rock ‘n’ roll musical was a good choice for the community theatre company’s first production of 2021.
‘Bye Bye Birdie’ is a lightly satirical musical comedy with a book from Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse. First produced in 1960, it won the Tony Award for Best Musical and has since spawned a 1963 film adaptation and various revivals, as well as becoming a community theatre staple.
Set to a toe-tapping score, the show tells the story of early rock ‘n’ roll heartthrob Conrad Birdie’s sudden enlistment into the army, and problems this poses for his manager Albert Peterson, as well as Albert’s secretary/love interest Rosie Alvarez. Rosie proposes Conrad perform a final song and concert, ‘One Last Kiss’, complete with an on-TV kiss with a lucky fan, to get them out of financial trouble before he leaves. Chaos ensues as Conrad, Albert and Rosie descend on the small town of Sweet Apple, Ohio, after local girl Kim MacAfee wins the ‘Kiss with Conrad’ competition. The showbiz trio are plagued by screaming fans, concerned parents, excitable youths and Albert’s irate mother as they try to pull off the televised concert.
Lighting Design by Andrew Borg was mostly bright and colourful, using a multi-coloured stage wash, ‘60s-esque spotlights, and low red lighting for various dance scenes. This approach complemented the multi-levelled and equally colourful set and the bold and effective costumes by Shirley Whitehouse. The show looked great.
Director Amy-Louise Anderson’s fondness and affinity with the source material was clear, carrying the fun-loving spirit of the script into this production, supported by Assistant Director Todd Jesson. The whole musical and directorial team definitely made use of the strengths of the show: its big and energetic musical moments. The full-cast rendition of ‘Normal American Boy’ on Conrad’s arrival to Sweet Apple was a highlight. With intricate blocking, successful musical moving parts, and that full-cast energy, it was a joy to see the cast working together so smoothly and having a lot of fun.
Ann Sparks’s musical direction brought these highlights to life, drawing the audience into the world of the play through its energetically performed songs. The high-spirited performance of ‘A Lot of Livin’ to Do’ by Conrad and the teenagers was another highlight and does exactly this. Kristine Dennis as Rosie and Stuart Morgan as Albert were given the chance to show off their impressive vocal talents, as was Flynn Anderson with his spot-on late ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll singer impression as Conrad.
Kate Learmonth’s choreography also aided these highlights. The young female ensemble were a lively and well-timed unit, and again, the full-cast dancing was impressive and detailed. The choreography for Rosie was imaginative and well-performed by Dennis; Flynn Anderson’s transformation through dance into an early Mick Jagger-like figure was also effective.
A part-cast invasion into the audience while searching for the missing Kim was unexpected but welcome, bringing new energy to the second half in a show that mostly stuck to traditional musical comedy staging. Enjoyment of this form and genre is obviously a matter of personal preference, but anyone would find it hard to go past the spirited performances and clear effort put into this musical. In terms of the cast, Dennis somewhat stole the show as the animated and vigorous Rosie, and was well-matched by Stuart’s flustered Albert, as his vocal strengths complimented hers in the performance’s central relationship. Nadine Chia was believable and dynamic as Kim and worked well with Anderson, who was cool and suitably obnoxious as Conrad. The audience loved Del Halpin as Albert’s mother Mae Peterson, as she took advantage of all of the comic opportunities in the role. Supporting characters and the ensemble brought their own spins on the characters and worked together to create a wacky and fun Sweet Apple, Ohio.
‘Bye Bye Birdie’ is a celebration of music, merrymaking and silliness, and of returning to the theatre. The brightness of the set, costumes and various performances reflect a feeling of joy and exuberance at being back. It’s truly a full cast and crew effort, and the chemistry comes out in full force in Gold Coast Little Theatre’s ‘Bye Bye Birdie’.
‘Bye Bye Birdie’ performs until Saturday, 27 February at Gold Coast Little Theatre. For more information visit, Gold Coast Little Theatre’s website.