I felt like I had hit a milestone as I arranged for a complimentary ticket for Musicals at Richter's production of Bye Bye Birdie. It would mark the first time that I would be reviewing a show that . Maybe it was a sign that I have progressed a bit from a "wannabe."
The reader may remember that Musicals at Richter is an outdoor venue in Danbury about 40 minutes from Naugatuck, if you don't miss the correct exit (don't ask.) After we parked in the golf course lot, a friendly gentleman in a golf cart (decorated with patio lights shaped like guitars) gave us a ride up to the hill to the box office. The show begins promptly at 8:30 after a brief announce by Janice Gabriel that includes a request not to pour candle wax on the lawn.
Bye Bye Birdie is a classic show being produced by many a community theatre lately, perhaps because it appeals to a wide variety of theatergoers. Teens enjoy watching the large number of teens in the cast, and the setting in the fifties is appreciated by those of us that were around then. This production, with wonderful costumes by Renee Purdy, looks like the fifties without every single girl in a poodle skirt. The large cast includes sixteen principals, a small adult ensemble, a huge teen ensemble, and even a small youth ensemble. The large outdoor stage easily held them all, especially during the beautifully staged "The Telephone Hour." Many of Director Donald E. Birely's productions have included young people and he easily includes all them in this show. The young Evan Smolin was wonderful as the youngest MacAfee, "Randolph."
The adults in the cast include Beth Bria as the overbearing "Mae Peterson," Dolly Conner as the "Mayor's Wife," and Matthew Wilcox as "Conrad Birdie." As "Albert Peterson," Damian Long is a fine comic actor and dancer. The adorable Christy Coco plays "Kim MacAfee;" this young lady has an excellent voice that she uses with her high school madrigal singers. "Rose Alvarez" is played perfectly by Lauren Sherwood in her Richter debut; she is the triple threat among the leads.
Every time the affable takes the stage as "Kim's" father, he almost steals the show. He admitted on Backstage with Johnny O that playing the "befuddled" father of a teenaged girl is not that much of a stretch for him; in fact, his daughter Katie appears in the teen ensemble. He is so funny in the Ed Sullivan Show taping scene that I almost missed the action happening around him.
Noticeably absent from this production was "The Shriners Ballet" and the musical version of "A Mother Doesn't Matter Anymore" from the second act. Some of my favorite songs in this production include the aforementioned "Telephone Hour," "Spanish Rose," and Mr. Stango and Laura Kennedy on "Kids."
The orchestra under the direction of Tina M. Lorusso was terrific. Matthew Farina's choreography was charming and the sound and lighting worked well. Opening night (because the Thursday preview had been cancelled due to weather) had one noticeable scenery snafu, but the actors just kept going. Overall this is a fine high-energy production of a fun show and definitely worth the trip.