Less confusing plot and better costumes could help musical
After a year of many progressive shows such as “Ragtime” and “1984,” I was surprised to see “Bye Bye Birdie,” a musical that pushes traditional gender and family roles and encourages the idea of “hysteria” in women, on the list for the 2017-2018 Mainstage season.
Although the synopsis of the musical is not one of my favorites, I felt that the cast did the best that they could with the show they were given. The musical takes place in a small town called Sweet Apple, Ohio in 1958. Conrad Birdie, a musical sensation, has just been drafted to join the war effort. He must leave his millions of teenage fans and his manager, Albert Peterson.
His manager is in debt and needs to figure out how to pay it off somehow to pursue his dream of being an English teacher. Peterson’s secretary, Rosie Alvarez, pitches an idea to have Birdie appear on the Ed Sullivan show, where he is to kiss a lucky fan after singing a song about his “last kiss” before he goes off to war.
This pitch is accepted, but causes chaos in Sweet Apple. The lucky fan, Kim MacAfee, who was chosen to receive Birdie’s last kiss had recently started seriously dating a boy named Hugo Peabody. MacAfee continuously attempts to convince Peabody that she loves him, not Birdie, to no avail.
To make matters worse, Peterson is dating his secretary, Alvarez, and his mother does not approve. Peterson’s mom does not like Alvarez because she is either Latin American or Hispanic, and the Petersons are white. This issue causes a lot of tension between Peterson, his mother, and Alvarez throughout the show.
During this time, Birdie begins to grow restless in Sweet Apple, as the day where he will be sent off to the military grows closer. Birdie’s restlessness mixed with the uneasiness between both couples sends the town into chaos.
At the end of the play all of the conflicts are resolved. Birdie is sent off to war, and both of the couples end up together, happy and looking forward to their futures.
There were many reasons why I did not give this play 5 stars, the first being the make-up. The make-up and costumes could have been done better. The adults were hard to tell apart from those who were playing teenagers. I believe the makeup and costumes could have been done to display these two groups better.
Some of the women that were supposed to be playing adults would also faint and go into hysterias at the sight of Birdie, which added to the challenge of telling the groups apart.
The actress that played MacAfee, although she had great vocals, sounded like she was singing in a choir, not like a teenager infatuated with a superstar. This aged her character, who is supposed to be 15.
The set changes seemed haphazard, not well-planned, and lasted too long. I think with a little more rehearsal and direction they could have been smoother.
Lastly, in the beginning, the musical uses a screen in which the actors seem to have been recorded and put into some sort of film. This seemed unnecessary and confused the audience. Many thought that the whole show might be a movie instead of a play. It was odd.
Although these errors negatively impacted the show, I still believe that the actors did their best with the material they were given. This show is not as inspirational as those that came before it this year. Many newspapers and news networks consider this musical to be sexist, and NBC plans to alter it when they release the live-action version to make it less opinionated.
Despite the plot and the errors, the choreography and vocals were powerful. The actors seemed to never miss a beat. They should be proud of their work.
The star of the show, in my opinion, was Kristin N. Fox. Fox played Mrs. Mae Peterson, Albert Peterson’s mother, and made her role hilarious. Fox is a third-year MFA Directing candidate from Pelican Rapids. Her role was silly, over-exaggerated, and perfect for the performance.
Fox has directed multiple shows, and this musical was her Minnesota State University, Mankato acting debut. She has made a strong start on the MNSU stage as an actress, and I hope to see her on that stage again in the future.
The last show dates are April 12-15. The show will be in the Ted Paul Auditorium.
Photo: (Courtesy of MSU Theatre)