Friday, October 16, 2009

Bye Bye Birdie (The SOB Review)

Bye Bye Birdie (The SOB Review) - Henry Miller's Theatre, Roundabout Theatre Company, New York, New York

* (out of ****)

Pity the incredibly talented young Allie Trimm, who portrays teenybopper Kim MacAfee in director Robert Longbottom's ill-conceived, bird-brained revival of that favorite high school musical Bye Bye Birdie.

Try as this gifted young actress might to build on the solid foundation she established through her assured turn in 13, she's suffocating under the collapse of one gigantic egg that's been laid. Sure that egg may be as heavy and look as ornate as a precious Fabergé, but it's pretty hollow inside.

Although Trimm certainly helped carry 13, she's now being forced to undertake the unenviable task of singlehandedly lifting this ridiculous revival. And that hand has been tied behind her back.

So never mind the kids, who along with Nolan Gerard Funk as the swaggering heartthrob Conrad Birdie, are for the most part all right. A much larger question looms. What's the matter with adults today?! Beginning with Longbottom right down to the casting directors, did they really think their Birdie would soar, let alone fly?

Not even the normally unimpeachable Bill Irwin or Jayne Houdyshell can save this half-hatched show from itself. Irwin as Harry MacAfee is more than a bit off, particularly on the tune "Kids." There's no disputing his comic genius; yet when he first takes to the stage, it's as if he's in a completely different production. No wonder his accent is all over the map. Too bad he can't zero in on Ohio, where most of Bye Bye Birdie's action transpires. And as much as I'm an avowed Houdyshell fan, she leaves the role of the annoying Mae Peterson purely one dimensional.

Then there are the quote-unquote headliners, who aren't all they're cracked up to be.

As much as I enjoyed Gina Gershon in the recent revival of Boeing-Boeing, she's been completely miscast here as Rose Alvarez, the Latina spitfire who here can't even manage a spark with John Stamos' Albert Peterson. To be blunt, Ms. Gershon can't sing. And try as she might to dance, it's clear from the excision of "Shriner's Ballet" from the show that she's really not up to that, either.

To say Stamos is a little better than Gershon is like saying that the recent Guys And Dolls dud of a revival was a little better than this one. What this Bye Bye Birdie does for Stamos' Albert is basically what that Guys And Dolls did for Oliver Platt's Nathan Detroit. It takes a memorable leading role and somehow twists it into a forgettable tertiary character. No amount of mugging in Stamos' big number could make me muster a happy face. Perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, it's no wonder that when it accidentally broke apart during its final Wednesday night preview, Stamos quipped (maybe metaphorically), "It’s a career-ending moment."

Having said all that, the kids are indeed the best part of the show. That the little Jake Evan Schwenke as Randolph MacAfee easily steals every scene only serves to further diminish the dubious capabilities of the assembled adults both on stage and behind the curtain.

Bye Bye Birdie is at once very dated and very silly. Whether it's Mae's egregious wisecracks about Rose's Hispanic heritage or Albert's kowtowing to his insufferable mother, Michael Stewart's book becomes a throwback to another era that should best stay in the past. Although I'd love to say that it's a pleasure hearing Charles Strouse and Lee Adams' score once again, most of the voices within this revival just aren't made to sing them.

As for Roundabout, I have little doubt that once their subscriber base finishes seeing it, they'll indeed be saying Bye Bye Birdie. Too bad there'll be a good riddance attached to it as well.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 16 October, 2009, Blogger Mondschein said...

Then the real question becomes:

"What's the new theatre like?"

At 16 October, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Loved the new theatre - my visit marked my first time ever visiting the Henry Miller's. However, it should be noted that while they have three times the required number of female bathroom stalls, the lines were still long.

At 16 October, 2009, Blogger Kevin Daly said...

Well, Brantley did suggest there was a virus at the theatre...

At 16 October, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...


At 16 October, 2009, Blogger Linda said...

I also loved the theatre. In fact, that was my favorite thing about the show. I agree with most of your review, but even though the teenagers and Allie Trimm are talented, I couldn't get past the fact that they all looked 12 years old. I understand casting teenagers to play teenagers, but most of the kids looked prepubescent.

At 16 October, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Interesting observation, Linda. There were quite a few who looked quite young to me, but I chalked it up to being an old SOB! Even 20 year olds look young to me!

At 16 October, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any thoughts on how Matt Doyle did in his role?

At 16 October, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anonymous, My apologies for lumping Matt Doyle in with all the other kids. He far surpassed all the adults in this production - he was quite good.

At 16 October, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for clarifying. He has a beautiful voice and I quite enjoy seeing him perform, wanted to make sure that he wasn't being thrown out with the bathwater on here.

At 16 October, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

You are correct. Along with the other fine young performers, I would like to see him in a better-directed vehicle.

At 19 October, 2009, Anonymous BroadwayBaby said...

Your review is actually the kindest one I've seen. This birdie is a turkey.


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