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Review: Bye Bye Birdie at Rivertown 

Reviving a vintage piece of Americana May 18-21 and 26-28

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Photo by John Barrois

By the time Elvis Presley was drafted, he was a teenage heartthrob, drawing swarms of swooning teenagers everywhere he went. His induction into the Army in 1958 was the inspiration behind Bye Bye Birdie, a Tony award-winning Broadway musical parodying public appearances of a fictitious rock 'n' roll singer, Conrad Birdie (Trevor Brown). Deeply in debt, Birdie's talent agent Albert Peterson (Bryce Slocumb) concocts a publicity stunt to boost record sales, randomly selecting one member of the Midwest Conrad Birdie Fan Club, Kim MacAfee (Haley Nicole Taylor) to receive a televised kiss as Birdie departs the train station.

  Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts' rendition of this vintage piece of Americana is a sweet and joyously entertaining story about teenage infatuation and complication. Elvis flaunted his sexuality onstage in a way that was new to many audiences. 1950s references, such as an homage to TV's longest running variety show, The Ed Sullivan Show, hold natural appeal to baby boomers, but are still relatable to youngsters. When the MacAfee family is invited to appear on the venerable TV show, Kim's anxious dad, hilariously portrayed by Kyle Daigrepont, finally is swayed to allow Kim to kiss Conrad Birdie. The MacAfee family then sings like a quartet, reaching a glorious crescendo in unison with a chorus, "We'll be coast-to-coast with our favorite host." As Kim's younger brother, Randolph, Dylan Rhoton hits the highest notes.

  Costumes and sets are right-on with ponytailed bobby soxers wearing pastel pedal pushers. Doris MacAfee's domain is a turquoise and mustard kitchen with a Formica-top kitchen table and turquoise appliances. Rumors quickly spread by telephone, demonstrated in an ensemble performance of "The Telephone Hour." Though Birdie more closely resembles Michael Jackson in gold lame and aviator glasses, his swiveling hips still tantalize, much to parents' dismay.

  A major subplot concerns Peterson's unsteady career and eight-year engagement to Rose Alvarez (Abby Botnick) who begs him to quit show business and become a high school English teacher so they can marry. Peterson's petulant and suffocating mother (Helen Blanke) opposes the marriage. This thoroughly modern couple has terrific chemistry and Peterson's sincere affection for Rose is expressed in heartfelt ballads, including "Everything is Rosie" and "Baby, Talk to Me." A barbershop quartet made up of bartenders and bar patrons provides harmonious backup.

  Bye Bye Birdie has an outstanding score, and a few songs like "Kids" and "A Lot of Living to Do" are classics. Comedian Dick Van Dyke and dancer Chita Rivera, who played the couple in the original Broadway show, are hard acts to follow, but Slocumb and Botnik are agile performers, fully up to the challenge. The scene in which Albert does a soft-shoe with two little girls (Meredith Charbonnet and Laney Dobson), intoning them to "Put on a Happy Face" is especially charming.

  Directed by Gary Rucker, Bye Bye Birdie is an innocent and effervescent musical that has audiences leaving the theater humming, "My life is Rosie."

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