'Bye Bye Birdie': cute, funny, tuneful


If you think you've spotted Elvis down at the Annapolis City Dock this summer, don't bother calling the National Enquirer.

Chances are the '50s rocker will turn out to be the great Conrad Birdie, which isn't surprising, because the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre's junior production of "Bye Bye Birdie" is playing Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings through July 26.

"Birdie," you'll recall, is Broadway's spoof of the Elvis phenomenon and of teen-age life in the '50s. As the rock star is about to be drafted into the Army, his manager, Albert Peterson, and Albert's loving secretary, Rose Alvarez, plot to extract one last payday from their meal ticket with the gyrating hips.

They take him to Sweet Apple, Ohio, where Conrad is to bestow "one last kiss" on the lovely Kim MacAfee, one of his loyal fans. She has just been pinned to her steady, Hugo Peabody.

The result is a cute and funny farce filled with wonderful songs like "A Lot of Livin' To Do," "Put On a Happy Face" and "Hymn For a Sunday Evening," a hilarious ode to Ed Sullivan, who televises Conrad's final kiss as a civilian.

Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre's "Birdie" is dominated by the gifted Lauren Ziemski. She sings and acts like a champ as Rosie, the long-suffering secretary who loves Albert but can't get him away from schlock music and his fruitcake of a mother long enough to marry him.

Lorraine Boozer is lovely as Kim. She has a very pleasant voice for the role, especially when it stays in the appropriate octave.

The gifted Jeremy Corwin sparkles as Old Man MacAfee. His song, "Kids," is just terrific. Ken Keech shakes his hips and sings with real style as the obnoxious rocker.

Also good are Jill Koethcke as Ursula, the quintessential shrieking teen, and Kelly Wheatley as Albert's guilt-inducing mother Mae, though Miss Wheatley might want to remove some of the sultriness from her character.

Mae may be a co-dependent pain in the neck, but a sex kitten she's not.

I loved Casey Hobart as Kim's younger sibling, and Jason Whittle does very well as Hugo when his whining doesn't obscure his dialogue.

Choreographer Tiffani Baldwin has the cast moving smartly through "Telephone Hour" and other numbers.

The chorus is short on men, which means the guys have to work harder.

The show's main problem is that it simply isn't funny enough. Ben Jones moves beautifully and sings decently as Albert, but the comic chemistry with Rosie and his mother isn't there yet.

He also needs to work on his lines in Act II.

Mrs. MacAfee should be a source of humor and isn't, and there are many 1950s jokes the cast can't sell to the audience because they, obviously, don't get them either.

Where were the directors, I wonder?

Another big problem is the woefully uneven sound system, which has you fully attuned to the proceedings one minute and straining to hear the next.

When more of the jokes come and the voices stop sounding like fading radio reception, this will really be a great show.

"Bye Bye Birdie" will play Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at 8:30 p.m. through July 26.

For tickets, call the Summer Garden Theatre at 268-9212.

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