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Southside Theatre Guild1
Average Rating Given : 4.00000
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REVIEWS

Bye Bye Birdie, by Michael Stewart (book), Lee Adams (lyrics), and Charles Strouse (music)
Another Hit for STG
Monday, July 21, 2008
4.0
We've seen a good many shows produced at the Southside Theatre Guild. Most are excellent, some good and then there are the exceptional ones - like Bye Bye Birdie. When you see the name of Marian Johnson attached as Director you can be sure it can be nothing less than exceptional! She can be a demanding director expecting the cast to rise to the occasion and put every ounce of talent they have into their role. This cast does just that and in turn gives the audience a night of theater to which others will be measured by.

There are so many exceptional performances with the actors feeding off each other to bring the total experience together into one of the best community theater productions of this classic 1960's musical comedy.

Jonny May (Albert Peterson) does an admirable job in the lead along with co-star Katy Durham (Rosie Alvarez.) Both have strong voices, the ability to develop a character, dance with confidence and maintain their energy level throughout the show. They are perfectly matched on stage.

Young Ashton McCranie (Kim McAfee) is an up and comer. Under voice coach Barbara Zellner she is developing a strong voice that carries well and delivers a song with appropriate emotion. Kim's rendition of How Lovely to be a Woman in Act One showcases her training with a promise of more to come as she gets a little older. Her acting ability isn't bad either! We enjoyed her as the emerging woman from teen girl who almost, but not quite, crosses that threshold. Her scenes with the older, more experienced Conrad Birdie are right on target.

Ian McCarthy as heart throb Conrad Birdie nails the role. In the Penn Station scene he comments on the reporter's questions and remarks of his managers Albert and Rosie with facial expressions that don't require words. Ian has a deep, resonate voice which he used effectively in an Elvis style parody on which the Birdie character is loosely based.

There are a couple of absolute scene stealers in this show!

First on the list is future Broadway Star, Amanda Lindsey (Ursula Merkle.) When she steps on stage she commands it and the audience responds with bursts of laughter and applause. Amanda has a natural comedic ability, outstanding facial expression and natural acting ability. Without a doubt the best Ursula I've ever seen outside of Broadway. A senior at the University of West Georgia majoring in Theatre she has the ambition and talent to fulfill her dream.

One of the funniest scenes is Birdie's arrival at the Sweet Apple courthouse. Assembled is the entire cast of town folk as the Mayor, played by Terry Hoffman, welcomes Conrad. On hand in the crowd is the Mayor's wife portrayed by Louisa Grant. You don't realize she is even on stage until Conrad begins to sing Honestly Sincere. Then she pulls out all the stops. Without saying a word, she swoons, almost faints, finally does faint and produces one of the funniest and show-stopping scenes in the entire show. Ms. Grant you are awesome!

Speaking of scene stealers, I can't overlook 5 year old Gracie and 4 year old Katie Coyne, both making their stage debut in Bye Bye Birdie. Someday they will look back on their performance and understand that in the theater no role is small and every role adds to the over-all excellence of the show. Know that the audience saw you, heard you and enjoyed you every time you stepped on stage!

Another actor who dives head first into his part is Ben Papac (Harvey Johnson.) This time he plays a teen still emerging from puberty with a voice that cracks to soprano. Ben was outstanding on stage - especially in the scene at Maude's Roadside Retreat when the sight of a woman's exposed leg sends him into near apoplexy. Again, expressions say so much more than words! Great performance by a young actor/singer we have enjoyed watching. Ben has a good voice and it's getting better thanks to voice coach Rick Massengale. His is a talent we can all expect to see more of and it would not be too soon!

Bert Lyons does a stellar job as Kim's father (Harry MacAfee) displaying all the angst those of us with a daughter have survived. Trying hard not to lose control of his family he moves through the scenes with increasing frustration not wanting his daughter to kiss Conrad. That is until he learns that the entire family is going to be on the Ed Sullivan Show. Bert's attempt at stealing the spotlight is another highlight of this remarkable performance.

Tyler Shellnutt, in the role of the McAfee's young son (Randolph) was a natural for the part. He did a good job with Hymn for a Sunday Evening and Kids. He seemed very comfortable on stage and was believable as the younger brother. Trying to communicate with a Dad that "only wanted respect from his family" he is most often told to "shut-up." Growing up in the Shellnut household suggests that we can see great acting in his future.

Angie Morrow, cast in the role of Doris McAfee gives a portrayal of a 1950's housewife whose only lot in life is to care for her family, devoted to the needs of her husband while carefully circumventing his tirades with "Yes, dear." Trying to understand a daughter who feels grown up enough to call her Doris rather than Mom, she played the role with all the right nuances, bewilderment and skills of a mother of that era. If you grew up then, you would see glimpses of your own Mother in her performance.

Another winning performance was given by Debbie Lewis as the long suffering, world-champion-guilt-trip Jewish mother, Mae Peterson. She assumed the role only a week before opening night and turned in an excellent performance. We would have preferred a more defined accent which the role demands to punctuate the comedic nature of the character. However, we can overlook that and be thankful that she learned the lines and delivered them with such little prep time. That's a real trouper!

If there was one gaff in the evening it has to be in the role of Hugo Peabody, played by a talented 13 year old actor, Gray Oglesby. He's an experienced young actor with some solid credits on his resume. So our fault doesn't lie with his acting - it's the hair cut! Someone should have told him that back then guys didn't style their hair in tight cropped curls! Gray, learn from this experience - as an actor you have to "look" the part from top to bottom. It's not too late - get a hair cut, look like a kid from the '50's and make your role totally believable. I promise, your hair will grow back just as curly in no time at all. Other than that, he does a good job of being the jealous boyfriend finally popping Birdie in the nose in front of millions of TV viewers.

Adding to the over-all experience is the live music provided by Marian Johnson, Jerry Mathis, Bill Dyson and Vince Rosse. Bye Bye Birdie is a musical and it calls for live music; anything less would be a distraction. These musicians did an excellent, professional job.

Everyone on and off the stage contributes to its success. It promises a theater experience that can be enjoyed by the entire family and I expect will sell out every performance. It deserves to be seen, heard, laughed along with and even talked about when you get home and recall your favorite song, scene or character.

Tell your friends about it, form a theater party or go by yourself - any way you do it, don't miss Bye Bye Birdie!

Andre De Lorenzo
Editor
Southside ARTS Agenda
www.southsideartsagenda.com

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