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Bye Bye Birdie

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The kitsch is as high as an elephant's eye in this shamelessly nostalgic revisit to a surprisingly durable 1960 chestnut. Long before Hairspray or Grease, this musical took the then-bold step of injecting youth appeal into old-guard Broadway formulas. Inspired by the Elvis-the-Pelvis mania of the late 1950s, it's the tale of a narcissistic, hip-swiveling rock 'n' roll idol who creates a frenzy when visiting small-town America. The musical's in-your-face style seems the perfect fit for this quaint mom-and-pop theatre, complete with in-the-round staging, theme-park ambience, and vintage Pepsodent commercials between scenes. Baby-boomers will have even more fun than their kids.

Director Martin Lang's rendition is driven by a charismatic cast and a polished-to-perfection staging. It employs bare-bones accoutrements and splendid video footage, and makes inspired use of the steep aisles alongside the stadium-style seats. Enjoying this musical requires minimal attention to Michael Stewart's funny but meandering book. The real joy is in the rousing Charles Strouse/Lee Adams score, which includes rib-tickling spoofs of '50s rock styles ("Honestly Sincere"), humorous ditties ("Spanish Rose"), and old-fashioned Broadway uplift ("Put on a Happy Face"). Steven Applegate's music direction is excellent, though prerecorded accompaniment doesn't generally warm musical-theatre purists' hearts. The engaging and appropriately campy choreography is attributed to dance captain Kevin Holmquist.

Heading the cast in roles that catapulted Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera to stardom are nimble and buoyant song-and-dance man Dink O'Neal and triple-threat dazzler DJ Gray, as agent/songwriter Albert and his frustrated secretary/fiancee Rosie, respectively. Interfering with their long-stalled nuptials is Albert's guilt-slinging mom (an uproariously over-the-top Lois Descault). Tony Monsour's take on lady-killer rock star Conrad Birdie is generally hilarious, though he's perhaps a tad subdued for a production painted in comic-strip strokes. As Kim, the 15-year-old girl who wins a kiss from Birdie on nationwide TV, Michaelia Leigh is utterly disarming, courtesy of her soaring soprano voice and effervescent presence. Sandy Johnson and George Strattan deliver adept sitcom-style portrayals as her befuddled parents. With bizarre rumors flying that a hip-hop film remake is in the works, catch this unadulterated bit of vintage fluff before Hollywood "fixes" it.

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