Bye Bye Birdie is a weird show.
I don’t think I’ve ever realised just how weird until I was sitting beside someone as they experienced the show for the first time and I watched them try and stay on the roundabout of fast and yet slow moving plot, highly caricatured performances, and characters coming and going before you can figure out whose side you are supposed to be on.
I’ve always loved Bye Bye Birdie for what it is, an energetic weird and corny show which is very enjoyable if you don’t think too much about it, and if the show doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Which is what MLOC’s production does. It doesn’t play characters, songs, or scenes for more than what they were designed to be. Fun. Entertaining. Lighthearted.
If you give yourself over to the idea of the show being presented as an old school ‘variety style’ television show, as seems to be suggested by the set, you are in for an enjoyable evening at the theatre. There are songs sung in beautiful harmony, moments of pathos, a few life lessons, and plenty of laughs to be had.
The overall look and feel of the show in terms of costumes, hair/makeup, props, set, lighting, choreography etc. reflected what we have come to expect of the time period of the late 50s. At least in terms of the theatrical world. Bright colours, bold designs, well-tailored, everything in its place. The use of projections to suggest locations was stylised and worked well. Using the projection screen to also show silhouettes at various stages was very clever, and another way in which the style and time period of the show was visually cemented.
The cast worked well together, and maintained a great energy throughout the show. It is interesting to note many of them were participating in their first community theatre show. Standouts from the ‘adults’ were Mae Peterson (Janet Reid) and Harry MacAfee (Michael Young). Both such great characters to begin with they were expertly played with great comedic timing and characterisation it was a joy to watch. I’m always disappointed when I see the musical and am reminded that unlike the movie Mae and Harry don’t actually get to sing ‘Kids’ together. But in this case it was probably for the best. The audience wouldn’t have survived the hilarity of Reid and Young combined in one song. In terms of the ‘kids’ – Albert Peterson (Paul Congdon) and Ursula (Maddie Plum) were standouts. While Albert isn’t actually a kid (he’s 33), he behaves like one for most of the show and he’s in the process of becoming a fully-fledged adult independent from his ‘Mama’ so he falls in the ‘kids’ category. His performance throughout the show was very engaging and understated, with ‘Put On A Happy Face’ an absolute delight to listen to and watch. The sheer delight on Plum’s face and her enthusiasm throughout the entire show was contagious, she was having fun, so you were having fun.
Some of the jokes and humour fell a bit flat, and some of the references went over the heads of the audience. I’m not sure if it was because of sound issues, it was quite often difficult to hear dialogue both with and without music, or because the jokes have aged with the show and find it hard to hit home with the audience. Bye Bye Birdie differs to other shows of the same style/era such as Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can, as they were written in recent times with nostalgic references designed to appeal and be relevant to modern audiences, whereas Bye Bye Birdie was actually written during the time it was set and what was funny then hasn’t necessarily aged well.
MLOC’s Bye Bye Birdie is a very family friendly night out at the theatre. As director Drew Downing explains the show has a special ‘cross-generational appeal’, not just for the company taking on the show, but for the audience who comes to see it. The show encourages the involvement of a wide range of ages, and can also be enjoyed by young and old. This production has nailed the ‘community’ sentiment of community theatre with a wide variety of people involved in all aspects of the show all coming together to share their love of theatre and create a show they can be proud of.
Bye Bye Birdie’s final performances are Saturday 15th at the Shirley Burke Theatre in Parkdale. Tickets available from: https://www.trybooking.com/Booking/BookingEventSummary.aspx?eid=211894&track=sitedatesbtn