Monday, July 23, 2012

NCT Kisses Birdie Goodbye

Erica Harr and Doug Atkins
It's the summer of Bye Bye Birdie in Wilmington this year, with not one but two local productions of the nostalgic show (see Ebbie's review of the Wilmington Drama League's version here). We're not sure how that happened, but there's really no such thing as too much Birdie -- and if it affected ticket sales, you wouldn't know it by looking at the sold-out crowd at the New Candlelight Theatre.

For those still unfamiliar with the show, Bye Bye Birdie is a musical loosely based on Elvis Presley's draft into the Army in 1957, and the insanity that surrounded him at the height of his popularity. At the center of the story are Albert, the agent of the Elvis-like Conrad Birdie, and his secretary and love interest Rose. Together they hatch a plan to give Birdie a televised send-off where he kisses one of his biggest teenage fans goodbye, to the tune of what they hope will be the highest-selling record of his career. The lucky fan, 15-year-old Kim McAfee, lives in All-American Sweet Apple, Ohio, which is turned upside-down by the arrival of the superstar.

From Jeff Reim's outstanding, quick-changing set design to Timothy Lamont Cannon's meticulous 1950s costume design, everything comes together, allowing the actors to transport the audience back to 1958 without distraction. Erica Lynn Harr returns to the NCT stage after nine months performing for Disney Cruise Line, and she's as amazing as ever as the long-suffering Rose. As Albert, NCT newcomer (but not new to the stage) Doug Atkins often seems to channel Dick Van Dyke, who originated the role on Broadway and in the 1963 film. The two stars dominate and work well together, with the help of the hilarious Susan Dewey as Albert's overbearing mother, Mae. Joining them in central roles are Michelle Cabot as Kim and Steven Calakos as Conrad.

Michelle Cabot as Kim MacAfee, Steven Calakos as Conrad Birdie and Anastasia Bokas as Ursula Merkle.

Among the other characters, there is always a scene-stealer. Often, it's Kim's best friend Ursula or her steady boyfriend Hugo. Although these characters are played wonderfully by Anastasia Bokas and Caleb Whipple, the big scene-stealer in this production is Dewey Oriente, as Kim's excitable father Harry. The choreography during the Ed Sullivan Show scene couldn't have been funnier; much of the credit goes to Director and choreographer Dann Dunn, but Oriente made it perfect. Another scene-stealer is Lindsay Mauck as Gloria Rasputin, the young woman Mae tries to replace Rose with. She does a lot with the small role.

The ensemble supports the cast without flaw, though few of the background characters pop. Exceptions are Peter Briccotto, whose nerdy Harvey Johnson stands out, and the Maude's Bar trio of David McConney, Timothy Lamont Cannon, and Steve Stonis.

By the end, you may be ready to return to a world where parents can simply call their kids' cell phones rather than run around town in pajamas in the middle of the night and teenagers aren't expected to pair off for life -- but you will have had a great time in Sweet Apple while you were there.

Bye Bye Birdie runs through August 25th; tickets include a buffet dinner.

See for tickets and more information.

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