Looking to have your spirits lifted? How about just a good time at a great show? You’ll get all that at El Dorado Musical Theatre’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie.”
EDMT does 4 productions a year, and I wish there were more. In the comfortable, intimate, state-of-the-art Stage 1 at Harris Center, you can count on a musical theatre production that is in every way professional – even though no one on the stage is older than 20 (or older than 18 in the case of this show).
Inspired by Elvis Presley’s drafting into the army in 1957, “Bye Bye Birdie” builds the story of the drafting of a fictional teenage heart-throb, Conrad Birdie. His record company stages a “last kiss” with a fan in the small fictional town of Sweet Apple, Ohio.
It’s a fast-moving show, featuring wonderful, often familiar music, and full of laughs, with clever dialog and action that brings out the many comic situations.
Topping the cast are two veteran performers, 18-year-old Zach Wilson and 15-year-old Emily Fritz. They play record producer, Albert Peterson, and his assistant, Rose Alvarez, and it’s pure joy to see them act, sing and dance. If you haven’t seen them perform before, you will be amazed at the talent these two young people bring to the stage.
Perhaps even more amazing is Ty Rhoades, who plays Conrad Birdie. He has the moves and voice – even the aura – of a rock-and-roll star, all made incredible by the fact that he’s just 13 years old.
The show is double-cast, and I saw Izzy Weaver in the role of Mae Peterson, Albert’s mother. She played the long-suffering, manipulative Jewish mother to perfection – complete with New York accent.
Madeline L’Engle as teenage Birdie-worshipper, Ursula Merkle, was another standout to me: she sparkled from the beginning of the show to the end.
But I don’t want to slight the rest of the cast. So many had their moment in the spotlight – the great virtue of every EDMT production – and I saw good comic acting, good dancing and good singing from each one.
Much as I enjoyed seeing the talent displayed by the older teenagers in the cast, I was fascinated by the actions of the youngest players. As I watched them, I could see their intense concentration on where to stand, how to move, what to say or sing, and I felt I could see them gaining in confidence and carried away in the joy of performing. And I could easily imagine that many of these will be the leads in some production not too many years from now.
You can go to each EDMT show (as I have for many years) and never get the feeling that you’ve seen it all before. It all feels so fresh. Part of that feeling comes from the fact that that the design of each production is so professional. Transitions from one scene to another are smooth, and the variety of sets is such that each scene has its distinctive sense of place.
This is due to the constantly growing skill of Zach Wilson in producing realistic and evocative projections. And with this production, he’s taken over the role of set designer. So many sets were so well done, but I especially loved the “Church of Ed Sullivan.”
And speaking of Ed Sullivan, “Bye Bye Birdie” is a bit of a history lesson. What got my attention was when one character proposed to her husband that he “have a nice cup of Postum and go to bed.” Postum was a caffeine-free grain beverage introduced in 1895 as a hot-drink alternative to coffee. I remember it from my childhood, but I haven’t seen it on store shelves for many decades. Amazingly, though, it’s still available (from one store in Sacramento, per the postum.com website.) That led me to find a website that annotates the 1950s pop culture references in “Bye Bye Birdie” (www.killerowl.com/snooksville/theater/birdieAllusions.html). There are 22 of them, and if you’re of a certain age, you’ll enjoy seeing how many you can identify as they come up in the dialog.
The Broadway production of “Bye Bye Birdie” opened in 1960, and has since been revived, taken on tour, and turned into theatrical and made-for-TV movies. But this show has something none of its predecessors had: kids playing kids. Adults in the audience will love to see these young people singing “What’s the matter with kids today?” But the true irony is that there’s nothing the matter with these kids: they put on a great show!
A Review by Eva Dunn for gold Country Publicationsâ€‹
The musical Bye Bye Birdie was inspired by true life events of Rock-and-Roll idol Elvis Presley when he was drafted into the army in 1957 provoking a media circus. It was the premise of this show and is one of the most captivating musical shows of our time. This nostalgic show brings back many memories of how life was in the late ’50’s… with rotary telephones, skirts with petticoats, bobby socks and saddle shoes, and of course, pony-tailed teen girls. I remember seeing this movie as a teenager, starring Ann Margaret; this performance brought back so many wonderful memories. In the late 50’s, I was also wearing saddle shoes, bobby socks, poodle skirts, and scarves tied around pony tails!
So here we are in 1958, and the much-adored, rock-and-roll idol Conrad Birdie has been drafted into the US army. His songwriter and agent, Albert and Albert’s secretary and some-time girlfriend, Rosie, hatch a plan for a farewell performance to take place on The Ed Sullivan Show, which they hope will help sell Birdie’s new song “One Last Kiss,” and ultimately save Almaelou records from going under. To cap off the performance, Birdie will actually give â€˜one last kiss’ to Kim MacAfee, an avid member of the Conrad Birdie fan club from Sweet Apple, Ohio. Albert and Rosie head to Sweet Apple to prepare for Birdie’s arrival, and unexpectedly, things begin to go awry. Kim’s father becomes suddenly starstruck when he learns he’ll be on the iconic Ed Sullivan Show with his daughter. Meanwhile, Kim’s beau, Hugo, gets jealous at the thought of Kim kissing Conrad on national television and it drives him absolutely wild! This is a wonderful tumble of personalities and music, colorful sets, and exuberant young performers, as the story continues to unfold.
I was enchanted by not only the music, and the wonderful songs remembered from so long ago, but also by the energy and vivaciousness of these young performers. I could see so many of the talented performers going on to great things in years to come. While much of the story stayed true to the original film, creative license was taken with certain scenes that greatly added to the show, such as the large piece of cardboard being quickly held up by an adult to hide Conrad’s pivoting pelvis as he gyrated! This solicited much laughter by an appreciative audience of early television censorship!
A lovely voice, Emily Fritz played Rose Alvarez in both casts (her 33rd production with EDMT), as did Zach Wilson who played Albert Peterson (his 46th show with EDMT) and Ty Rhoades who played Conrad Birdie (his 19th EDMT show). Really delightful scenes were in Act One, ‘How Lovely to be a Woman,’ sang by Kim (Hannah Davis); in Act Two, ‘A Lot of Livin’ To Do,’ sang by Conrad, Kim, and the Teenagers; and ‘Spanish Rose’ sang by Rosie (Emily Fritz).
Although the sets were basically simple, they portrayed elaborate and colorful sequences effectively, and were wonderfully created to capture the essence of production numbers. Especially nostalgic was the ringing telephone, many of today’s youth likely have never seen. Enhanced by lighting and music, the magic continued from scene to scene, to our viewing delight. There is a huge working cast behind these performers; designers, prop masters, technicians, crews and parents; all work together to create these wonderful shows for the benefits of children and parents alike.
Main Stage shows are large-cast productions and feature performers up to 20 years of age. Bye Bye Birdie runs from April 27 to May 6, 2018 at the Harris Center for the Arts at Folsom Lake College; Director/Choreographer: Debbie Wilson; Vocal Director: Jennifer Wittmayer; Costumer: Karen McConnell. BYE BYE BIRDIE, Book by: Michael Stewart, Music by: Lee Adams, Lyrics by: Charles Strouse. There are two casts: ALBERT CAST and ROSIE CAST. EDMT Theater, “We do high-quality theater. It just happens to be with young people.”
Founded in 2001, EDMT is one of the premier youth theater companies in the Western United States. More than exceptional theater, it is also a place where young people can “build confidence for life through excellence in theater production.” Each season, El Dorado Musical Theatre continues to raise the bar on the level of its productions. Digital projection effects have become a standard part of shows along with flying effects, and eye catching costumes and makeup. Combined with the excellence of the performers, it has lifted EDMT to its reputation of being one of the premier regional youth theater companies in the United States.