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'Bye Bye Birdie's' a kiss of nostalgia

September 27, 2008|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

Crowd-pleasing familiarity gyrates across "Bye Bye Birdie" in Redondo Beach. After nearly 50 years, Charles Strouse, Lee Adams and Michael Stewart's Tony-winning 1960 musical is a ubiquitous part of the national landscape, which is how its Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities revival plays.

Director-choreographer Dan Mojica oversees a straightforward reading that's always proficient if seldom inventive. Set designer Christopher Beyries' backdrop of interlocking rectangles and Darrell J. Clark's lighting towers foretell the "Ed Sullivan Show" appearance that spurs Act 1.

Teen idol Conrad Birdie (James Royce Edwards) will plant "One Last Kiss" on a typical fan before his Army induction.

This notion comes from Rose Alvarez (the wonderful Natalie Nucci), long-suffering secretary to Albert Peterson (John Bisom, charming as ever), Conrad's beleaguered manager.

Their romance, hindered by Albert's outlandish mother (Lana Hartwell), underpins Stewart's libretto, which explores the generation gap in Sweet Apple, Ohio, home to kiss-recipient Kim MacAfee (Jill Townsend). Complications arise from Hugo Peabody (Robert Pieranunzi), her steady, and Mr. MacAfee (John Martin), her father, whose apoplexy ("Kids") runs counter to the family's Sullivan worship ("Hymn for a Sunday Evening").

"Birdie's" principal pleasure remains Strouse and Adams' score, and such standards as "Put On a Happy Face" and "A Lot of Livin' to Do" get their due under musical director Alby Potts' adroit baton.

Moreover, both leads put their own spin on the roles created by Chita Rivera and Dick Van Dyke. Nucci makes a most fetching Rosie, deft in her character numbers and the loopy Act 2 "Shriner's Ballet." She enjoys an easy chemistry with Bisom, who doesn't reinvent Albert so much as infuse him with ingratiating expertise.

As Conrad, Edwards successfully trumps the usual Elvis imitation, and the bright-voiced Townsend and goofy Pieranunzi are fine as Kim and Hugo. Martin's Mr. MacAfee is a hologram of originator Paul Lynde.

Hartwell's Mae Peterson similarly echoes Kay Medford. Heather Lee's chirpy Mrs. MacAfee and Terren Mueller's bouncy kid brother Randolph are serviceable.

So goes the production, at once undemanding fun and pro forma. Like designer Karen L. Cornejo's costumes -- creative in Rosie's red scheme and Conrad's sequined glitz, workmanlike in the capri pants and dungarees worn by the giddy ensemble -- the overall effect is more dutiful than galvanic.

Media pull and renegade kids should carry satiric pertinence, but the topical references seem dated, lacking the overview to make them pop. Still, much of any given audience will probably be reliving their high school production, and that's "Birdie's" biggest selling point.


"Bye Bye Birdie," Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 5. $40 to $60. (310) 372-4477 or Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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