CEDAR FALLS – High-kicking Meghan Reilly wows in a charming production of the muscial “Bye Bye Birdie,” which opened to a full house Friday at the Cedar Falls Community Theatre.
The show, which won the 1960-1961 Tony Award for best Broadway musical, is based on true events. In 1957, Elvis Presley was drafted into the Army. Before he departed, he played for the Women’s Army Corps and bestowed “One Last Kiss” on a specially-chosen WAC.
“Bye Bye Birdie” follows this plot, only changing Elvis’s name to Conrad Birdie, a play on Conway Twitty, one of Presley’s rivals at the time in the rock n’ roll world. The WAC became a 15-year-old Fan Club member from Ohio.
CFCT Artistic Director Liane Nichols creates the attractive innocence of the late 1950s. As the 10-piece orchestra plays the “Overture,” she projects slides that draw us back into those days of juke boxes, soda fountains, drive-in movies and mothers in commercials who cook wearing dresses and pearls!
Some of the best and most famous songs come in Act I of the show: “How Lovely to be a Woman,” “One Boy, One Special Boy,” “Put on a Happy Face” and “One Last Kiss.” However, two numbers in Act II are worth the price of admission alone.
Attractive Christopher Phalen plays the Dick Van Dyke lead role as Conrad’s manager, Albert Peterson. In Act II, Phalen sings “Baby, Talk to Me” (beautifully) into a telephone while a mesmerizing quartet sings in the background: William G. Dawson, J’Kalein Madison, Luke Overton and Randy Everding. The number is unusual — and wonderful.
Then Meghan Reilly dazzles as Albert’s secretary and love interest, Rosie Alvarez, in the hilariously-staged “Shriners Ballet.” Reilly is an exciting new talent on the metro theater scene. A former Entertainment Cast Member at Walt Disney World, Reilly has “it” and is a joy to watch. Her Rosie is hot —she moves her hips as inticingly as Conrad — and costume designers Jean Carlisle and Nichols dress her in successive visions of red. I hope someone will put on “Chicago,” so we could see Reilly in it.
One of the joys of “Bye Bye Birdie” is that it really isn’t about Elvis/Conrad, but the love story of Albert and Rosie and a coming of age story for the kids.
Dillon Bosler, who we last saw in “Guys and Dolls,” could make a career as an Elvis/Conrad impersonator, for I’ve never seen such hip movement — not only around, but side to side! Bosler has a fine voice and he makes all his numbers pay: “I’ve Got a Lot of Living to Do,” “Do you want to be Sincere?” and “One Last Kiss.”
Abby Zeets of Waterloo’s West High School, holds her own as Kim, who receives Conrad’s kiss. “I’m 15 years old and it’s time I settled down,” Kim says, and then sings “How Lovely to be a Woman.” Zeets is adorable. Praise goes, too, to Marley Millar for her screams and other hysterics as Kim’s friend Ursula, and to sixth-grader Jack Brooks, as Kim’s little brother Randolph.
Carlee Glenn also inserts energy with her tap dancing and splits as Gloria Rasputin. Dean Messerly has a fine voice in the Paul Lynde role as Kim’s father, but I wish he would dial back his non-singing lines just a bit.
Leonard Upham directs the fine orchestra: Scott Eiklenborg on percussion; Gerald Ramsey, bass; Luke Sanders, guitar and banjo; Sue Feltman, keyboard, Mabel Rempe, piano; Jim Gosnell, clarinet and saxophone; Greg Hahn, trumpet; Logan Vander Wiel, trumpet; Eric Stover, trombone; and Simon Harding on piccolo, flute, clarinet and saxophone.
Director Nichols evokes the more innocent era of the late 1950s and seals the upbeat mood with a “Put on a Happy Face” close.
Still, this 1960 musical has a new resonance in 2018. When they turned the 1960 Broadway musical into the 1963 film, they took Dick Van Dyke and Paul Lynde from the Broadway show, but they snubbed the great singer/dancer Chita Rivera, who originated the Rosie Alvarez role, making Rosie not an Hispanic-American in the film. In 2018 we see that that, even in 1960, the Broadway musical showed the folly of Albert’s protective mother, who tosses every sort of bigoted (and ignorant and foolish) dig at Rosie.
See this old but new “Bye Bye Birdie” through Sunday at the Oster Regent Theatre.