Those old enough to remember Chita Rivera in her first starring role on Broadway in Bye Bye Birdie in 1960 might blink at first when vivacious and lovely DJ Gray makes her entrance in the current Glendale production of the vintage musical. There's a definite physical resemblance to Rivera, not to mention a similar sense of infectious energy. The non-Hispanic Gray excels as feisty spitfire Rosie Alvarez, who is fed up being always a bridesmaid and not yet a bride, due to the feet-dragging tendencies of her fiancé.
In this sparkling in-the-round production, Gray capitalizes on her triple-threat talents to deliver a charming leading-lady performance; she's never better than in the saucy and electric "Shriner Ballet," which she pulls off with aplomb. Gray played this role one time before and feels that this time she's far more accomplished as a performer and brings a lot more to her interpretation. She attributes much of her growth to Betty Buckley, having studied in her workshop.
Now based in New York, Gray grew up in Claremont and has amassed extensive credits locally with civic light opera performances, choreographic gigs, and giving lessons in Pilates and Gyrotonic techniques, which she says train dancers in circular movements and also have therapeutic benefits. She also adores coaching young performers at her alma mater, Claremont High School, for an annual Christmas show. "I am bicoastal nowadays," she explains. "I go back and forth for work. I came out here to appear in 42nd Street at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre, heard about the Birdie auditions, and got cast. I will return home at the end of the run."
Interestingly, shortly after Gray moved to New York four years ago, she met her kindred look-alike, Rivera. This was right after Gray had the misfortune of pulling a hamstring while auditioning for Thoroughly Modern Millie, delaying her hopes of advancing her career in New York. According to Gray, Rivera told her: "Honey, I'd be angry as hell if I were you." Thankfully, Gray projects a delightfully upbeat attitude, the sort that cries out, in true Molly Brown fashion, "I ain't down yet."
"Bye Bye Birdie" continues at Glendale Center Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale. Wed.-Fri. 8 p.m. Sat, 3 & 8 p.m. Through July 3. $18-21. (818) 244-8481.