The news isn’t completely gloomy. Despite some major mistakes in the casting (Jim Carnahan C.S.A. & Kate Boka) of this Roundabout revival of Bye Bye Birdie not seen on Broadway for 48 years – Music by the ever optimistic Charles Strouse & Lyrics by Lee Adams – Book by Michael Stewart, there are some bright spots to be seen on stage at the newly refurbished Henry Miller’s Theatre on West 43rd Street (which is like a beautiful underground bunker) – but they are few and far between this muffled, misguided production directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom.
The plot is paper thin. Although Michael Stewart’s book still holds up pretty well – despite the many derogatory slurs made by Mae Peterson (Jayne Houdyshell) to Rose Alverez (Gina Gershon) – secretary to Albert (John Stamos), Mae’s son, who manages Conrad Birdie (Nolan Gerard Funk). It is the news that rock and roll star Conrad Birdie has been drafted that sets this tale spinning – or in the case of this production – limping along.
Despite being very beautiful to look at Gina Gershon is not in a beauty pageant – she is in a big famous Broadway musical, playing a part that requires her to sing and at least attempt to dance. After all, Chita Rivera became a star because of this role. No such luck here. You can see how hard she is trying but she should never have been cast nor should she have accepted.
John Stamos fares a bit better. He too is very beautiful to look at but his Eddie Cantor like behavior is ill suited to the part of Albert. He is supposedly madly in love with Rose but the rapport is far from steaming. Note: the audience eats him up!
Mr. Funk as Birdie lacks the necessary charisma to have all those screaming girls running after him. And Bill Irwin as Mr. MacAfee, father to the girl that has been chosen at random to receive Birdie’s last kiss before he leaves in Sweet Apple, Ohio – gives one of the weirdest performances ever. We know he is a great clown but it’s inappropriate here and his odd choice of vocal inflections made the character all the more weird.
As Kim, the chosen one, sweet Allie Trimm with her pony tail and petticoats is delightful. She has a winning personality and a clear voice that delivers the goods. She is just on the verge of becoming a woman and her confusion shines through as she packs up her Birdie memorabilia and sings “How Lovely to Be a Woman”.
Which brings me to the wonderful score by Strouse & Adams. It is still bouncy and fresh and tuneful. Memorable tunes. “Put on a Happy Face” “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” and “Baby, Talk to Me” and the tender and sweet “Rosie” in particular.
Other highlights include the performances of Hugo, Kim’s “steady” by Matt Doyle and Jake Evan Schwencke as Kim’s younger brother. As Mrs. MacAfee, the very talented and in this instance under utilized Dee Hoty is left having to put up with Mr. Irwin’s antics and changing costumes for the big Act I finale where they all appear on the Ed Sullivan show.
I’m afraid the minuses out weigh the pluses. And hearing “loop the loop” ad infinitum becomes annoying. This revival of Bye Bye Birdie doesn’t quiet lay an egg but neither does it soar. www.byebyebirdieonbroadway.com