By R.C. Christian
Bye Bye Birdie is a beloved musical that has captivated theatre audiences for decades with its catchy tunes and irresistible storyline. The musical, by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, based on a book by Michael Stewart, premiered on Broadway in 1960 and has since become a staple of community theatre productions. I had the pleasure of seeing the North Georgia Community Players’ current production of Bye Bye Birdie at the Dillard Playhouse, and it was an absolute joy.
The story takes place in the late 1950s and follows rock and roll heartthrob Conrad Birdie (played by the talented Owen Nowack), who is about to be drafted into the army. To capitalize on his upcoming departure, his manager Albert Peterson (played by NGCP veteran James Cash), comes up with a scheme to have Conrad give one last kiss to a lucky fan on The Ed Sullivan Show before he leaves for boot camp. That lucky fan is 15-year-old Kim MacAfee (played by NGCP newcomer Owen Murphy). Chaos ensues as Conrad descends upon the small town of Sweet Apple, Ohio to prepare for the big event.
The show is packed with memorable tunes that will have you tapping your feet and humming along. The opening number “An English Teacher,” performed by the talented Lucy Barry as Rose Alvarez, is an ode to Albert’s struggles as a music manager. Mr. Nowack’s first number “Honestly Sincere” gives the chance to not only show off his performing skills, but provide some insight into the true character of Conrad Birdie.
The well-rounded cast of over 35 performers was excellent. In addition to Mr. Cash, Mr. Nowack, and Ms. Murphy, the show featured standout performances from Lucy Barry as Rosie, Matthew Jay Campbell as Mr. MacAfee, and Chelle Wright as Mae Peterson. Ms. Barry’s lovely voice thrills throughout the show, and she charms in the second act as “Spanish Rose,” which includes the innovative decision to have audience members participate in the number. Mr. Campbell delivers another delightful performance full of humor and parental angst. Ms. Wright brings a fiery spirit and sharp wit to the character of Albert’s mother.
The production itself was top-notch given the cozy setting of the Dillard Playhouse. The set design was simple but effective, with clever use of backdrops and visual cues to transport the audience to different locations. The costumes were vibrant and colorful, perfectly capturing the spirit of the 1950s. The choreography by Sarah Shepard and Rebecca Bilbrey was fun to watch.
Music Director Quashona Antoine must have had her hands full with the large number of songs and different cast combinations, which were all performed effectively. Her work on the big production numbers such as “The Telephone Hour” and “A Healthy, Normal American Boy,” was particularly impressive, with the entire cast dancing and singing with infectious energy.
My favorite song of this performance was “A Lot of Livin’ To Do,” sung by Conrad and the teen chorus. The cast worked extremely well together during the number, which highlights the underlying theme of the show.
One of the most impressive aspects of the production was the direction by Rebecca Bilbrey. In her follow up to I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Ms. Bilbrey and her directorial team managed to strike a balance between the humor and heart of the show, never letting the comedy overshadow the emotional moments. The pacing of the show was excellent, and the transitions between scenes were seamless. The result was a production that was both entertaining and moving.
In conclusion, if you’re looking for a fun, upbeat musical with a heartwarming message, then Bye Bye Birdie is the show for you. With its appealing tunes, charming characters, and excellent performances, this production is sure to leave you with a big smile.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Bye Bye Birdie is currently playing at the Dillard Playhouse through Sunday, May 14. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit the North Georgia Community Players’ website at www.ngcommunityplayers.com.