by Chris Sanderson of Stone Bridge High School
Last week, "Bye, Bye, Birdie" struck a chord at W.T. Woodson High School, welcoming audiences to Sweet Apple, Ohio, home of small-town 1950s America, apple pie, and apparently diehard teen fans decked out in pigtails and enthusiasm.
Originally titled as "Let’s Go Steady," "Bye, Bye, Birdie" was penned by Michael Stewart, with music and lyrics by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, respectively. Bye, Bye, Birdie, which first went to Broadway in 1961, was inspired by the star phenomenon, Elvis Presley, who received a draft notice in 1957. Set in the same time period, Conrad Birdie, the teen sensation, receives a draft notice, much to the dismay of his stressed agent, Albert Peterson. With the help of his secretary-turned-sweetheart, Rosie Alvarez, the team manages to release a song before Conrad’s departure promising to give one lucky fangirl "One Last Kiss." When Conrad ventures to small-town Ohio, tensions between the teen fan girls and their uptight parents increase, promising an evening of many laughs.
Albert (Josh Reiter) led the production with consistent enthusiasm, and maintained perfect diction that some other leading characters lacked. His main draw was his impressive vocal range, only matched by his counterpart, Rosie (Paula Lavalle). Rose’s expert alto carried the vocal numbers with her strong, clear voice, showcased in the hilarious number, "Spanish Rose."
Portraying Albert’s overbearing mother, Mrs. Mae Peterson (Faith Johnson) stole the show. Johnson showcased an expert sense of comedic timing with her hilarious “mother knows best” outlook. Contrasting the young, energetic teen fans, Johnson’s movements were the epitome of an old woman. Johnson’s consistent energy and unique characterization saved the production from some if it’s lulling moments, particularly in Act II. The enthusiastic teen fan, Kim MacAfee (Ali Romig), had realistic relationships with all characters she interacted with, while also maintaining her enthusiasm for meeting the beloved Conrad.
While the leads of the production were impressive, the real anchor of the show was its Teen Chorus. By always maintaining high energy, the Chorus provided hysterically accurate archetypes of crazy teen fangirls, showcased in the most entertaining number of the night, "The Telephone Hour." While many major characters were inconsistent in their characterization and energy, the Teen Chorus never faltered. While some characters had inconsistencies with diction and cheating out to the audience, most seemed comfortable with their characters and had appropriate relationships with each other.
To match the skill shown on stage, most of the technical elements were generally on-point during "Bye, Bye, Birdie." The sound was generally impressive, using microphones effectively on a majority of the large cast. The pastel-washed set was basic but effective, and was further enhanced by the colorful and time-appropriate costumes and props. Though makeup age lines were a bit harsh on some characters, the majority of the cast had effective makeup.
The ultra-enthusiasm of the teen ensemble and the on-point technical elements are what defined the lighthearted tone of "Bye, Bye, Birdie." W.T. Woodson performed the 1950s satire with musical skill, confidence, and gusto-- the same qualities of a teen pop sensation.