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									                             Bishopshalt Operatic and Dramatic Society
                                          “Bye Bye Birdie”
                                         7th December 2007
                                        Bishopshalt School
                                             Tony Austin

When “Bye Bye Birdie” came out in 1960, everyone knew about “The Draft” (National Service
over here) and how the greatest Rock Star Elvis Presley had been called up to serve in the American
Army, about the worries of the older generation regarding the unwholesome influences of Rock and
Roll and that even the most innocent of its exponents were going to lead their children into
smoking, drinking, drugs and sexual depravity, instead of them watching the anodyne TV shows of
the time like the one fronted by Ed Sullivan (a familiar name here, even though his Saturday Night
show never came to this country). Wonderful subjects for a send-up musical, brilliantly realised by
a new, young writing team. But it has rarely been performed since that time, probably because those
subjects soon became history rather than everyday concerns, but also because of the show’s odd
construction, with the opening scene for just two characters introducing a lot of plot (and a song
about an English Teacher!) giving no possibility of a production number to start things with a bang.

Congratulations to Director LUKE JONES and Music Director STUART KING for solving all the
problems at a stroke! While we were still in the school foyer there was a near riot as cast members
in the guise of Newsboys surrounded us with placards and “Extra! Extra!” sales pitches telling of
Conrad Birdie’s getting to No 1 in the charts, and groups of girls screaming and chanting the “We
Love You Conrad” song with full-throated passion. And inside the auditorium there was Ed
Sullivan on screen in genuine old TV footage (with the terrible adverts of the period) introducing an
appearance (probably by Elvis himself) carefully doctored to refer to Conrad Birdie and cutting to
footage of an actual performance by Birdie and his guitar-player of “Ugga Bugga Boo”, a superbly
meaningless period song newly written by Stuart and accompanied by him, CONNOR MANGAN
and the chorus of Teen Screamers. And during the overture, brilliantly played by the superb 20-
strong BAND, we were taken further into the doubtful Birdie career by projected newspaper
images, spiralling down in typical style of films of the period and ending with an evocative spotlit
silhouette of the Rock Star surrounded by his young fans. Brilliant! I don’t know how contributions
to the whole sequence were split among the PRODUCTION TEAM, but I congratulate every one of
them. We had been thoroughly entertained (and educated) and the show hadn’t even started. And
the real first scene of the show was no problem played at a tremendous pace by the two leads while
getting over all we needed to know about the finances of the Almaelou Company, Mama, the dead
dog, Conrad and the inspiration for his one last kiss, as well as their own relationship and hang-ups,
with never a pause before cues were picked up, especially noticeable in the “English Teacher”
number which kept stopping for dialogue and restarting all without a moment’s hesitation.

BRADLEY COOK as Albert had established himself as a charming though nervous, mother-
dominated wimp, but soon showed authority over the Birdie cheerleaders and then branched out
into a great song and dance for “Put on a Happy Face”, leading the two sad girls and the eleven
tappers in fine style. Positive and clear through “A Healthy Normal American Boy” in preventing
Birdie (with Rosie’s help) from saying the wrong thing, he reverted to type under the almost
irresistible influence of his mother – and the wiles of Gloria Rasputin. At the mayhem in the TV
studio, his rage and then despair were realistically shown, as was the horror of realising he was still
on live TV. In his Act 2 panic to find the missing Rosie, his earlier appeasement policy to his
mother was convincingly abandoned and, plainly the new Albert Peterson, he was masterful in
getting her and Birdie onto the train while ensuring that he and Rosie missed it, with just enough
time to sing the bouncy “Rosie”, followed by a superbly lyrical dance with Fred Astaire lifts, before
taking her off to Iowa to be Mrs Peterson, the English Teacher’s wife. A superb performance, which
would have won approval from Dick van Dyke, the original Albert on stage and screen.
JO SHAH as Rosie was equally impressive in the star part written for Chita Rivera, putting over the
character as positive and down-to-earth and showing just how to deliver a punch line. She made
great comedy out of the indignities of the first Act when being put upon by Albert and his mother
(injecting real venom into the “Ways to Kill a Man” Dream Ballet), while still giving him loyal
support as in the “American Boy” number, before finally turning with “Yes, Hugo, I think you can”
(do something for me) and “You’re not alone, Albert, you’re on TV” after the Birdie knock-out,
both memorably delivered in character. The second Act really belonged to her, from “What Did I
Ever See in Him?” sung with real feeling, through the comic scene at Maude’s leading directly into
the Shriners’ meeting where she galvanised the boys and led them in the gloriously eccentric
Egyptian-inspired dance. All of which she outshone with her dismissal of Mama and her
performance of “Spanish Rose”, the song plainly written to be Miss Rivera’s starring “eleven-
o’clock number”, singing and dancing and then leading the massed girls with tremendous verve,
and being (as required) more Spanish than the Spanish. And with the further triumph of yet another
style of dancing in the final “Rosie” number, hers was a truly magnificent achievement.

LAKESHA CAMMOCK’s performance as Mama was a truly original creation (as opposed to the
more usual pseudo-pathetic old woman), a glamorous and feisty lady, fluently persuasive and
powerfully manipulative, played with just the right amount of caricature to make her hugely comic,
and performing wonderful physical contortions to go with her “Conrad, have you ever thought of a
more mature woman”, all in super contrast to JACK O’TOOLE’s Birdie, where the comedy came
from him looking confused (an expression he beautifully held despite what went on around him)
and not speaking (or being stopped from doing so), while the quality of his delivery of “Honestly
Sincere”, “One Last Kiss” and “Got a Lot of Livin’ to Do” easily explained the character’s chart
successes, and his occasional dialogue lines were given perfectly in character.

Kim MacAfee gave ALEX GRANT a wonderful part as the fifteen-year-old joyfully singing “How
Lovely to Be a Woman” but soon returned to childhood by the choice of her for Birdie’s last kiss.
Her later assurance to Hugo that he was her “One Boy” was brilliantly performed, with her seven-
girl backing group adding to the gentle movement and superb harmonies and the swoon at the name
of “Conrad Birdie” as Hugo was looking away beautifully managed. Her contributions to “What
Did I Ever See in Him?” and “Got a Lot of Livin’” were well put over, as was her dialogue right
through to the Ice House profession “I know the score; I even know some of the words”. Brilliant.

As Mrs Doris MacAfee, CHELSEY SEYMOUR got her comedy over with clear dialogue and
characterisation both as the anxious mother and as the star-struck American wanting to be seen on
TV (how like today, although in a different style of programme!), and supported her husband
MICHAEL VINEY both in the “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” and in his well-sung, acted and
danced protest about the “Kids” of the day, the climax of a role in which he had managed to portray
a fifty-year-old impeccably through many changes of mood, even making the TV studio intrusions
seem almost plausible and very funny. CRAIG HAMMOND as young Randolph, not yet old
enough to be a teenage rebel and with views (and a hairstyle) mimicking those of his father, got no
thanks from him (but lots of laughs from us) for expressing them, and did well leading the “Kids”
reprise with the Townsfolk.

MARCUS BOND as Hugo, knew just how to get a laugh from his “several headaches and a
nosebleed” and plainly didn’t care “how ordinary or common” he was, smiling blissfully unaware
of Kim fainting, and made an impact not only on Birdie’s chin and the (shining new?) galvanised
dustbin but also on us with each one of his entrances and utterances pitched exactly in character.
And NATALIE FANNING had a great time in her short scene as Gloria Rasputin, charming Albert
to the delight of Mama and the chagrin of Rose, and demonstrating her tapping prowess before
going down into jumped splits (cleverly mocked) and staying down until gradually pulled by them
to her feet in a wonderfully comic touch.
It is difficult to deal adequately with the immense contribution made to the show by the REST OF
THE CAST since there are probably more named parts in this script than in any other musical,
many with odd lines here and there, some only involved as members of groups (whose component
parts may change at different times) and many whose credits in the programme assign at least two
roles to them. I can only mention some of the pieces of the show which remain with me:
     • TUDOR WILLIAMS as Birdie’s guitar man in quite the strangest non-speaking part, but
         ever-present unobtrusively strumming his guitar, perhaps as a comment on the lack of
         musical skills of Rock stars then? The part was there even in the West End production when
         Birdie was played by real Rock Star Marty Wilde (father of singer Kim Wilde).
     • The TELEPHONE HOUR TEENS blocking the phone lines of Sweet Apple, Ohio with
         their news about Kim and Hugo put over from their pads, represented by a series of blocks
         mounted to the full height of the stage (as in the original London production).
     • JON BILLINS as Harvey Johnson (always identifiable as the only boy in shorts) in that
         scene, in the dancing numbers and showing enthusiastic characterisation throughout.
     • HANNAH DILLAMORE as Ursula Merkel, with clarity and expression in all her lines
         which she may well have learned from JESS UZZELL, similarly impressive as her mother.
     • JESSICA HILL, KAYLEIGH HUNT, RACHEL DAVIES, TANISHA HODGE,
         PATRYCJA MARCZEWSKA and possibly others as the screaming teens in New York.
     • THE SAME FIVE and all the others including MICHAEL HINDMARSH, JESS UZZELL,
         GEORGE MCCANN and LUKE GARDNER who as the adults in Sweet Apple were as
         keen to get close to Birdie as their children, and joined in as the dancing and singing chorus
         for the reprise of “Kids” as well as being the impressive group of concerned parents in the
         second Act looking for the missing teenagers.
     • TERRI ROSE and KAREN PIKE as the two sad girls who danced so well soft shoe with
         Albert in “Put on a Happy Face”.
     • The ELEVEN GIRL TAP DANCERS who joined them to complete the memorable number.
     • The lovely TRAIN FLAT moving across stage for the journey from New York to Ohio.
     • The DIFFERENT SCREAMING TEENS when they reached Sweet Apple., including
         HANNAH, AILEEN ASHE, JESSICA HOWARD, CANDICE POOL, SHANNON
         SULLIVAN, KRISTY PARNHAM, KAYLEIGH BILLINS and MICHAELA SAUNDERS,
         and their super Birdie-worshipping dialogue and 4724 renditions of “We Love You Birdie”.
     • The SEVEN GIRLS as already mentioned harmonising beautifully in “One Boy”.
     • The non-PC comedy from (I think) RACHEL DAVIES as Phyllis in the wheelchair.
     • MAX DINCH as Mayor Bryson presenting the golden key given by the Brass Works, until
         interrupted by more screams, and later leading the Shriners’ meeting and returning rather
         too close to Rosie to the horror of NADINE DINCH as the Mayoress, earlier one of the first
         and worst affected by Birdie and constantly keeling over.
     • The frenetic dance by EVERYONE to “Honestly Sincere” ending in their gradual collapse,
         followed in the half light by the contrast of separate anonymous anxious voices as they
         searched through those still unconscious, beautifully timed so as to be absolutely hilarious.
     • MICHAEL HINDMARSH as Mr Johnson for very clear and well expressed lines on this
         and various other occasions.
     • The GIRLS filling the aisles as a heavenly chorus for the Ed Sullivan Hymn and again as a
         less heavenly one during “One Last Kiss” with beautifully coordinated movements.
     • The GIRL DANCERS in the Dream Ballet showing how to kill Albert (represented by one
         of them in a costume similar to his).
     • EVERYONE INVOLVED in the apparent chaos of the TV Studio, where every move
         worked because they all knew exactly what they were doing.
     • The tremendous dance by the MASSED TEENS filling the stage to “Got a Lot of Livin’”,
         and the way they were collected by their anxious parents at the end.
   •   RAJIV KARIA making a huge impression as Maude, the bar owner, in his brief scene - a
       real character actor - and his BOY WAITER with his silent comment on bar hygiene.
   •   ALL THE BOYS as Shriners, stunned by Rosie’a intrusion into their meeting, but then led
       by her into an eccentric dance routine with its roots in the original Egyptian idea (from their
       Fez headgear) but spiralling (literally) from invention to invention, brilliantly conceived and
       danced with complete assurance, including their facial expressions, and ending with Rosie
       carried aloft at arms’ length. The best choreography for massed males I have ever seen.
   •   THE GIRL DANCERS in their glorious red and black costumes, dancing in more
       conventional manner, brilliantly stylish and together, to complete the Spanish atmosphere
       for “Spanish Rose”, the high point of a series of high points in a fantastic show.
   •   And finally, a word for all those playing BACKGROUND PARTS as newsmen, railway
       officials and travellers, TV studio workers, policemen and the like, without star billing but
       essential to the authenticity of their scenes and to the success of the show.

I am aware from my lack of notes during the dance numbers that my eyes were kept fixed on the
stage so as not to miss any part of them, but even if I had tried to make notes I’m afraid I should not
have had the words to describe all the movements or all the styles. What I can confirm is that I saw
a huge variety of styles, no one who was not fully involved when dancing, no one unable to perform
the movements required and no one ever making a mistake. A tribute to Choreographer JANE
GILLARD’s skill and invention (with help from assistant Choreographers NATALIE FANNING
and RACHEL OWENS) and to the thorough rehearsal process, as well as to the performers.

Technically, the production also stretched BODS and their dedicated helpers to new heights, with
scenery cleverly suggesting the many locations but also the practical “Telephone Hour” edifice and
the two-level MacAfee home (brilliant work by designers MARGARET TAPERELL and VICKY
GEE and the uncredited CONSTRUCTION TEAM) shifted instantaneously by the CREW (CHRIS
McMULLEN, LAURENCE BROWN, LIZZY PETTS, PENNY CHATE, CHRIS HOSTEIN,
KIRSTY TAYLOR, HELEN FARMER, ABIGAIL JONES and JOANNE COLLYER) under SM
DIKSHA PARMAR and ASM CHRIS ALARU. Set dressing and Props by JACQUI
KIRKPATRICK, FRANCES SINCLAIR and KERRY COBURN and the incredible array of
costumes by HEATHER SAUNDERS and KERRY MAGEE contributed greatly, as did the
atmospheric lighting operated by JACK HOPE (with wonderful use of the colour red, as well as
spotlights – perhaps directed by some already named as CREW) and the increasingly important
sound enhancement superbly controlled by MICHAEL SMITH, all under the control of Design and
Technical Director TERRY SHARP and Assistant Director KERRY MAGEE.

A final word of congratulation to STUART KING for the magnificent music and singing
throughout, to LUKE JONES for the concept and direction, rehearsed to perfection to give an
amazingly pacy result, but with just the right quieter and slower bits to contrast with the excitement,
and to both for solving the usual loss of pace in the second Act by cutting “Baby, Talk to Me”.

And my thanks to DAVID BOCOCK for inviting me and my wife to what you all turned into our
best Christmas treat ever. How will you possibly be able to better this next year?

								
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