by Terrance Mc Arthur
When people think of Bye Bye Birdie, the Blossom Trail Players musical playing at the Sanger High School Multi-Purpose Room through July 1, they think of Dick Van Dyke, who starred on Broadway and in the movie. The 1963 film version also starred Janet Leigh because the studio didn’t think Chita Rivera was a box-office draw, and propelled Ann-Margret to sex-kitten stardom. BTP found a worthy successor to Rivera in Marissa Sanchez.
Inspired by the drafting of Elvis Presley into the U. S. Army, the Strouse-Adams-Stewart musical tells of songwriter/agent Albert Peterson (Garrison Bennett), devastated when his singing star, Conrad Birdie (Greg Guerra), is drafted. His ever-loyal secretary, Rose Alvarez (Marissa Sanchez) picks a Kim MacAfee (Jenna Roza-Cabello), a fan club member in Ohio, to get “one last kiss” from Conrad to introduce a new song Albert would write. In Ohio, Birdie wreaks havoc on the town and the girl’s household, making her dad (Daniel Warnecke) want the singer out, until he finds out the family will appear on the Ed Sullivan TV show. Albert’s overbearing mother (Erica Mardirosian) arrives to meddle and break up Albert and Rose, while the promised kiss-getter’s boyfriend (Cordell Moon) wants to break other things, like Conrad’s jaw.
The tuneful score features favorite tunes like “Put on a Happy Face,” “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” (the Ed Sullivan Song), “Kids,” “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” and “Spanish Rose.” BTP made forward strides with sound this year, as the performers weren’t drowned in the music of the twenty-plus-piece orchestra masterfully led by Andrew Esquer.
Sanchez is amazingly powerful as a woman who loves a man who won’t cut the apron strings of his mother. Her singing voice is rich, her timing is excellent, and the body of this figure-skating coach can move in ways that astound. “An English Teacher” is filled with longing, “What Did I Ever See in Him?” brims with rage and frustration, and “Spanish Rose” is bubbly and playful.
The nemesis of Rose is Mae Peterson, Albert’s mother who won’t let go (and definitely not to someone of Hispanic heritage). Mardirosian powerhouses her way through the part, tossing insults and one-liners like illegal fireworks throw fireballs. She played Golde in Fiddler on the Roof and the mayor’s wife in The Music Man for BTP, and she is dangerous here, even when she tries to vamp Conrad (Please, take that image out of my brain!).
Guerra looks sleek and elegant in gold lame, and a military uniform, and predatory in a white T and black leather jacket. His pompadoured hair would have its own ZIP code (if they had ZIP codes in 1958—they didn’t). His velvety baritone caresses the words of “Honestly Sincere,” “One Last Kiss,” and “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” without trying to imitate Presley’s voice and mannerisms.
Warnecke presents less Paul Lynde style and more Phil Silvers as the harried householder dealing with teenybopper insanity. He smoldered well. His daughter Naomi, possessed of bouncy red pigtails, had a grand time as the MacAfee family’s younger daughter (originally a boy’s role, but I liked seeing the father surrounded by females).
Roza-Cabello, a ninth grader, shows great maturity as Kim MacAfee, on the cusp between girlhood and womanhood. With a strong voice, her best scene is when she devolves from a would-be woman of the world to a little girl crying for Mommy in less than thirty seconds. Moon, as Hugo Peabody, channels the frustration of every boy who has seen his girl slipping away to someone bigger and cooler.
Bennett’s warm baritone shimmers on “Talk to Me,” aided by a solid male quartet. He doesn’t try to be Dick Van Dyke: more like Perry Como. He’s content to give the spotlight to Sanchez; he doesn’t need to be the star, but he does get to have fun with “Put on a Happy Face.”
Brittany Zenz’s direction uses Dennis Runge’s multi-level set to the utmost, sending crowds of cast members over the steps at a speed like the zombies of World War Z. The traditional boxes of “The Telephone Hour” aren’t there, but there are teenagers up, down, and all around that stage.
It’s a family-grade show, but you’ll have to explain a lot of the Fifties references, and you may need to ask someone with gray hair, yourself. Make new friends, and have a root beer float during intermission.
Go to 1045 Bethel Avenue, Sanger. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults ($10 for students and seniors). For more information, go to blossomtrailplayers.com/about.
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