The fun, frivolous Fifties were revisited over the weekend as the Tisbury School presented the musical “Bye Bye Birdie” to packed audiences on Friday and Saturday night. Although the title character, an Elvis-style rock singer, is ostensibly the focus of the show, the characters in his orbit really provide the drama in this funny, nostalgic, feel-good songfest.
The show is full of colorful characters — adults and teens — and the talented 7th and 8th graders who were cast in the production managed very well to bring these interesting personalities to life.
The musical, which premiered on Broadway in 1960 and was later made into a movie starring Ann Margaret, centers around teen idol Conrad Birdie’s imminent induction into the army, and the effect his departure has on his fans and members of his entourage.
The title character is a moody, taciturn heartthrob who comes to life only when performing. Birdie’s every soulful glance, hip shake, and, even the mere mention of his name, cause teenage girls to swoon and shriek, which provides for some very funny scenes of otherwise ladylike little girls going into hysterics periodically.
As Birdie, eighth-grader Josh Boucher faced quite a challenge, but he pulled off both surly, rock-star cool, and Las Vegas style crooning convincingly. Mr. Boucher has an impressively deep bass voice, and he seemed to especially enjoy performing his solos with accompanying over-the-top rock and roll moves.
Casey McAndrews plays Kim MacAfee, president of the Conrad Birdie fan club and the girl who’s been selected to receive Birdie’s parting kiss on national television. As the ultimate small town girl next door, Ms. McAndrews displays a sweet soprano voice that is perfect for her solos on “How Lovely to be a Woman” and the lovely, yet difficult, “One Boy.”
Director Chris Abbot noted that Ms. McAndrews has been singing in talent shows since the second grade and he and musical director Peter Boak have been “watching her and waiting until she was old enough to do the junior high musical.” Last year, Mr. Abbot tapped her to fill in as Tinkerbell for one performance when she was in sixth grade.
The real story of “Bye Bye Birdie,” however, is the romance between Conrad’s manager, Albert, and his fiancé, Rosie. Two very mature young actors were cast for these roles in the Tisbury School production.
Jennifer Rosado was a natural as the strong, sassy, sarcastic Rose — the one responsible for any success that Albert has enjoyed. Ms. Rosado started off the show singing “An English Teacher’s Wife,” and she commanded the stage from that moment on. She’s got the spunk and the sparkle to pull off the role and she did a wonderful job with some sassy dance moves in the song “Spanish Rose” where she ironically runs down all the Hispanic stereotypes in response to her future mother-in-law’s racist attitude.
As Albert, Grant Santos proves himself an excellent physical comedian as he bumbles his way through life — torn between his domineering mother and Rose and not quite capable of commitment or confrontation.
Kaela Vecchia-Zeitz as Albert’s mother, Mae Peterson, got some of the biggest laughs of the show. She plays the stereotypical manipulative Jewish mother, playing on guilt to get her way. At one point, when Albert threatens to dissolve their joint business, she announces nonchalantly, “Fine, just don’t forget to turn off the gas and take my head out of the oven.” Commanding the audience’s attention, Ms. Vecchia-Zeitz did a very convincing job in a strong adult role.
Kim’s father is played by Rasmus Sayre. As the overlooked, ignored, and pushed-around parent, he also gets some great, funny lines, like “Why don’t they lower the draft age to, say, 11?” Moaning about getting no respect from his family, Mr. Sayre proves himself a great underdog type comedian, whose attempts to assert himself continually fall on deaf ears.
Mr. Sayre and Megan Bischoff (as Mrs. MacAfee) provide a fun duet singing “Kids,” which comes across as even sillier considering the age of the singers.
As Kim’s sweetheart, Hugo, Aaron Teves displayed remarkable confidence and poise on stage.
Alyssa Cimeno as Kim’s best friend Ursula does a great job as a typical teenybopper, and Kayla Goldman gets a lot of mileage out of her character, Gloria Rasputin, a gum-chomping, aspiring starlet who tries to win Albert’s attention with her feminine charms — and a purposefully amateurish tap dance.
The large cast (24 in all) included a gaggle of starstruck teenage girls dressed in kitcshy fifties outfits, including cheerleader uniforms, embellished circle skirts, bobby sox and lots of pony tails and little neck scarves. Alice Robinson’s costumes including a crowd-pleasing gold lame suit on Birdie, added authenticity, and vibrancy to the production.
Musical director Peter Boak on piano, Julie Schilling on bass and Jordan Barbosa on drums provided the musical accompaniment and interludes. The accomplished trio executed their roles unobtrusively, allowing the catchy tunes and young voices to shine.
The show was wonderfully choreographed by Cathy Weiss. Highlights included the fun “Telephone Hour” ensemble piece that introduced the young girls gossiping and a terrific jazzy Latin-influenced dance to “Spanish Rose.”
Before the show, school principal Richie Smith announced that shop teacher Mike Ovios, who was in charge of set construction, had to step down from his duties mid-rehearsal due to a serious illness. Director Chris Abbot explained that the set crew used his designs but had to scale back considerably on the original plans. However, the minimal sets were extremely effective, and excellent use was made of the front staircase and one area in front of the stage to add interest, keep the action moving, and allow for a flow with set changes.
Mr. Abbot, who has been at the helm of the Tisbury School musicals since their inception in 1981, retired from his job as social studies teacher last year. He was persuaded to return to direct this show, but turned the performance night duties as stage manager over to Barra Peak, a ninth-grader at the regional high school. He enjoyed watching the show for the first time as an audience member.
Of his choice of “Bye Bye Birdie” for this year’s show, Mr. Abbot said, “Peter Boak knows all the kids. He and I looked at the kids that we had. Some were just perfect and it really almost cast itself.”
With his wife, Diane, Mr. Abbot will be moving off-Island soon. The veteran director, who has led productions of “Bye Bye Birdie” twice before at the school, was happy to have the campy show be his own Bye Bye to directing. “It was a lot of fun and a nice way to keep my hand in,” he said. “It was a great show to go out on, but this will be my last.”