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Saddleback Revels in the Silliness of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Cheerful adolescent energy and a helping of goofiness add up to make Saddleback College’s “Bye Bye Birdie” a diverting enough experience.

Silly has to be the best way to describe the musical, which opened on Broadway in 1960. At the time, Elvis had gyrated into the public mind-set and an infatuation with celebrity had become as natural as watching Ed Sullivan every week on TV. Fan clubs sprouted all over the landscape, usually run by high school girls hopelessly taken by the latest pop singer to hit the scene.

“Bye Bye Birdie” (with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Lee Adams and book by Michael Stewart) spoofs all that in ways as broad as they can be. Director Beth Hansen doesn’t mess with the obvious at Saddleback; she asks her mostly young cast to dive into the loopy satire with grins and gusto.

Often, that’s the best this production has going for it. Several of the players are green, and not all the voices are as powerful as you’d like. But the main performances are decent, and the upbeat pacing stubbornly pulls the audience along.

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Conrad Birdie (Wade Gunderman), the Elvis clone with a towering pompadour that teeters over his forehead like a hillside ready to collapse, may have all the teeny-boppers squealing, but Albert is the real star of “Bye Bye Birdie.” This mama’s boy of a talent agent can barely make a move without worrying about the consequences; he’s just a bundle of nerves who’s most nervous about coming up with a great publicity stunt for Birdie.

So, when loyal secretary and girlfriend Rose concocts a scheme to have Birdie kiss a high school girl (Jodie Bowman) from Sweet Apple, Ohio, Albert starts the public relations machine humming. Matthew Snyder plays Albert like he’s just finished a pot of strong coffee, all fidgety impulse. It’s the show’s most satisfying turn, aided by Snyder’s capable singing, especially a pleasing rendition of “Put On a Happy Face.”

Noelle Bird’s Rose isn’t as dynamic, but she has mastered a look of impatient disappointment--which just happens to be the long-suffering Rose’s favorite one. There isn’t much romantic heat between Rose and Albert, but that’s Snyder’s failing as much as Bird’s.

Other amusing moments come from John Petersen as Mr. MacAfee, a local guy who lets Birdie stay at his home for a few days; Sherry Domerego as Albert’s annoying mom; and Kristin Miller as Gloria, the would-be starlet with a great body and puny mind.

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Everybody cavorts around Wally Huntoon’s varied sets, which are fairly ambitious for this type of production.

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* “Bye Bye Birdie,” Saddleback College’s McKinney Theatre, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. Today, 8 p.m. and Sunday, 3 p.m. Ends Sunday. $10 and $11. (949) 582-4656. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

Matthew Snyder: Albert

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Noelle Bird: Rose

Kristin Wegman: Ursula

Jodie Bowman: Kim

John Petersen: Mr. MacAfee

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Suzanne Rafferty: Mrs. MacAfee

Sherry Domerego: Mrs. Peterson

Wade Gunderman: Conrad Birdie

Rick Boyer: Hugo

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Kristin Miller: Gloria

Joseph Russo: Maude

Terry Robinson: Mayor/head Shriner

Harvey Johnson: Steven

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A Saddleback College production of the musical by Michael Stewart, Charles Strouse and Lee Adams. Directed by Beth Hansen. Sets: Wally Huntoon. Lighting: Kevin Cook. Costumes/makeup: Diane Lewis. Musical direction: Carmen Cortez Dominguez. Choreography: Steve Anthony. Production manager: Jack R. Morones.


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