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Theater Review (LA): Bye Bye Birdie at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

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I hadn’t seen Bye Bye Birdie in over forty years. I had forgotten what a tuneful show it is.

It was produced on Broadway in 1960 with a legendary cast featuring Paul Lynde, Chita Rivera, Dick Van Dyke, Charles Nelson Reilly, Kay Medford, Dick Gautier, and Susan Watson, and was later made into a movie with Lynde, Van Dyke, and Ann-Margaret. The songs include “A Lot of Livin' to Do,” “Spanish Rose,” “Put On a Happy Face,” and “One Girl.” I found myself humming along after all those years. It’s a really catchy score.

Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities is putting on a terrific version of the show. The cast is up to the task, and stars John Bison, one of my favorite performers, as Albert Peterson. He is charming, handsome, a bit gawky, and altogether charming. (I recently saw him play the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.)

Natalie Nucci plays his strong but put-upon girlfriend Rose, who eventually finds her hidden "Spanish Rose" even though she was born in the USA. She has a good singing voice and is a pretty good dancer too. Her dance number with the Shriners is a hoot. Lana Hartwell plays the idiomatic guilt-inducing mother to a tee, Heather Lee is perfect as Mrs. MacAfee, and John Martin does a good Paul Lynde-like Mr. MacAfee. Jill Townsend is sweet and spot-on as the teenage daughter Kim, and James Royce Edwards makes a sexy swivel-hipped Birdie.

The fantastic South Bay Orchestra, conducted by Alby Potts, sounds rich and full. The director and choreographer, Dan Mojica, keeps things lively, detailed, and jumping. The set by Christopher Beyries is one of the best I have seen on any local stage, simple yet versatile. He was aided by the lighting design of Darrell J. Clark, which was colorful, varied, and gorgeous to behold.

My only caveat is that some of the ethnic stuff said about Rosie did seem to be rather unfunny to our P.C. sensibilities. Still, it is a period piece, so South Bay is to be praised for not updating it but leaving it in its time period, warts and all. Go see Bye Bye Birdie at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center until Oct 5.

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