`Birdie' is a delight for all ages

Children's Theater production combines catchy score with energy, nostalgia

January 12, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

By no stretch is Bye Bye Birdie a classic Broadway musical. But the dated nature of the 1960 show delivers multigenerational appeal in the current Children's Theatre of Annapolis production, where youthful energy and innocence combine fun with nostalgia.

Parents in the audience will remember rotary phones and may be aware of the identity of publisher Henry Luce. Only the grandparents likely willpick up the references to "The Shadow" (a 1930s radio detective) or Sammy Kaye (a swing-and-sway '40s bandleader).

Everyone can enjoy the still-catchy score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams.

It helps tell the story of rock `n' roll star Conrad Birdie - who is about to be drafted into the Army, as Elvis was in the 1950s. Conrad's manager, Albert Peterson, promotes a publicity stunt to ensure his song, One Last Kiss, becomes a hit, by selecting a teenage fan in Sweet Apple, Ohio, for Conrad to kiss and sing to on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Experienced director Christy Stouffer creates a well-rehearsed, remarkably polished production and receives strong support from choreographer Jason Kimmell, who has the cast dancing like pros. Adding to the show's success is music director Ken Kimble, along with his 13 musicians in the pit.

At least three female cast members transformed themselves into such believable adults that I had to check my program to determine that they were teenagers. Loghan Bazan is 17 - not the twentysomething Rose Alvarez that she plays so convincingly on stage. Playing even more mature roles are the talented trio of Malarie Novotny, who dominates her scenes as Albert's fearsome mother, Mae Peterson; Bethany Lamolinara, who plays Kim's matronly mother, Doris MacAfee, to perfection; and Samantha Engler, who plays the mayor's wife.

Mature, star-quality poise is only one of the attributes projected by Bazan, in her final CTA appearance. As Albert's secretary/girlfriend Rose, she dominates her every scene with incredible dancing and fine singing.

Making his sixth and final CTA appearance is equally talented Joshua Konick, who plays 34-year-old mama's boy Albert Peterson, with glowing good nature, professional polish and easy grace. When he sings and dances with sparkling energy in the show-stopping Put On a Happy Face, Konnick really connects with the audience.

Kudos to Severna Park High junior Brittany Kemmer, who plays 14-year-old Kim McAfee to perfection, displaying vocal talent in How Lovely to be a Woman and One Boy, and manages some nifty dance moves.

Ned Kimble has great fun playing Conrad, and it comes across to the audience. Ned captures the good-old-country-boy charm needed to invest energy in singing silly songs like One Last Kiss.

Another high school senior making his final CTA appearance is skilled comedian Jonathon Grubb- kruger, who summons an impressive level of middle-aged maturity to play Kim's grumpy father, Harry MacAfee. Grubbkruger's heartfelt rendition of Kids, sung solo and with a spirited chorus, is the second high point of the show - after Put on a Happy Face.

With a production that recreates a bygone era and a cast that delivers polished singing and dancing, the audience can't help but follow that suggestion.

Performances continue at Anne Arundel Community College's Pascal Center for the Performing Arts today and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. with 2 p.m. shows scheduled tomorrow and Sunday. Tickets cost $12 general admission and $10 for seniors and children and are available at the theater or by calling 410-757-2281.

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