A musical comedy full of late 1950s nostalgia and beloved songs, Bye Bye Birdie is onstage at the Hendersonville Community Theatre through Sunday, Aug. 18.
The story centers on the arrival of a rock ‘n’ roll teen idol to Sweet Apple, Ohio, for a publicity stunt. Conrad Birdie (played by Alexander Guazzo) has been drafted, so his promoter, Albert Peterson (Kiran Bursenos), sees this as an opportunity to save his failing business. Meanwhile, Albert’s long-suffering secretary, Rosie Alvarez (Keelie Jones), is tired of waiting for Albert to stop being a mama’s boy and marry her. She’s realizing that Albert may never take their secret love affair into the daylight of matrimony.
Sweet Apple has its own local celebrities in high school sweethearts Kim McAfee and Hugo Peabody. Kim (Jaylan Skye Brinson) is a member of the Conrad Birdie Fan Club, and she’s the one who will publicly give Birdie his last kiss before his deployment.
The town’s local boys find Birdie’s gyrating performances worthy of ridicule. Birdie is an urbane outsider who really just wants to find the local dive bar and live a little before he starts his military service. The immature teenage boys just don’t get why all the girls in town fall to the floor screaming when Birdie belts out “Honestly Sincere.” Even mature women find themselves overcome by his sex appeal. This rock ‘n’ roll star turns Sweet Apple into a hotbed of hyperventilation.
More turmoil occurs back at the McAfee home, where Kim’s transition to womanhood is disrupting her parents’ peace of mind. Doris (Chelsea St. John-Wade) and Harry (Rob Sneller), convey clueless parental love as their daughter insists on calling them by their first names. Even more disturbing, Kim uses the word “puberty” in the house, rendering Harry cringingly upset. Brinson delivers a moving, ironic rendition of “How Lovely to Be a Woman,” which the audience can enjoy for her powerful vocal skills and for the lyrics. When she sings of the “hallelujah” moment of “that happy grown-up female feeling,” it’s full of the optimism of youth. She has no idea what’s coming.
Another familial problem emerges because Albert’s mother, Mae (Linda Meigs), doesn’t like Rosie’s Hispanic heritage. She also doesn’t like her son slipping out of her grasp. Meigs plays this role with an over-the-top interpretation of the prejudiced, clingy mother who can’t let her son go. Meigs brings edgy humor to the role and to a character it would have been easy to dismiss.
The show brims with standout musical numbers, dancing and vibrant costume design for songs like “Put on a Happy Face” and “A Normal American Boy.” Jones’ dance skills are also superb, especially when she performs “Spanish Rose.” The show is full of the youthful exuberance and adult angst that continues to make this production a favorite for fans of musicals.
WHAT: Bye Bye Birdie
WHERE: Hendersonville Community Theatre Second Stage, 229 S. Washington St., Hendersonville, hendersonvilletheatre.org
WHEN: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Aug. 18. $20-$30