Monday, August 10, 2015

Bye Bye Birdie C.A.S.T. Brings Youth Favorite to Forest Grove

Jeremiah Stephens (Albert) and Breanna Grimes (Rosie).
Photo by  Becca Cooper of "Portraits by Becca."
By Tina Arth
How do you turn a generation of tiny-screen texters into a legion of live-theatre lovers? Get them on stage having real, face-to-face fun – or at least put them into the audience of a live show! Theatre in the Grove’s remarkable Children’s After School Theatre (C.A.S.T.) program is working its magic again in 2015 with an ambitious production, the Young Performer’s Edition of the classic Bye Bye Birdie. Participation in the C.A.S.T. summer teen production provides an educational opportunity for all registrants, free of charge, to be on stage or to work backstage at a fully staged musical. To expand the program’s reach, the shows are priced at only $5.00 general admission – a great deal for families looking for an inexpensive and wholesome way to introduce kids to the wonders of theatre.
Like the more well-known “Jr.” shows, the Young Performer’s Edition of Birdie is condensed and, where appropriate, cleaned up a bit for younger audiences. The show is performed in one act, with minimal sets and prerecorded music to keep the production costs modest. Guided by Jeanna Van Dyke and Adam Borrego, in only 8 (very long) days of rehearsal, the cast of 34 (plus stage hands and techs) put together a lively and entertaining version of the 1960 musical loosely based on the furor surrounding Elvis Presley’s 1957 induction into the U.S. Army. It may not be perfect, but it is definitely fun.

The fictional rock star and teen idol Conrad Birdie has been drafted, and his mama’s boy manager Albert Peterson (pushed by his secretary/girlfriend Rose Alvarez) is trying to cash in on his departure with a huge publicity stunt. Conrad will go to Sweet Water, Ohio to bestow “One Last Kiss” on local fan club president Kim MacAfee. Kim’s starry-eyed friends, bratty little brother, frustrated dad, and jealous boyfriend ensure that the plan will go awry, as it does when 15 year old Kim goes off to a local makeout spot, The Ice House, with bad boy Conrad. Of course everything works out fine – Kim is reunited with boyfriend Hugo, Conrad is shipped off to the Army, and Albert’s interfering uber-momma Mae Peterson is tricked into boarding a train for New York. Meanwhile, Albert and Rosie head off to get married in Pumpkin Falls, Iowa, far from Mae’s grasping histrionics.

The show has some notable strengths, including the vocal and dance ensemble, which are amazingly coherent given the timeline and the open casting – clearly, Van Dyke and Borrego have worked hard with their cast, and clearly the performers have repaid their efforts with real dedication. Breanna Grimes (“Rosie”) and Jeremiah Stephens (“Albert”) are true professionals – even better this year than they were in last summer’s Into the Woods. I wish that the condensed version had retained “Spanish Rose” – I would have loved to see what Grimes could have done with it! Ian Romig (“Hugo”) has a refreshing take on the role – more mature and much less whiny than the average “Hugo.” Athena Van Dyke (“Kim”) is charming, and physically perfect for the role. However, I found myself wishing the part were written for an alto, as she has to fight for some of the higher notes. Van Dyke’s lovely voice comes through best in ensemble numbers where she can stay within her comfortable range.  Parker Loughmiller (“Conrad”) is obviously having a lot of fun with the role, and he has mastered the timing and attitude essential to a dissipated rock legend.

It’s tough to imagine any group that deserves community support more than TITG’s C.A.S.T. program. It’s fun, educational, and a truly egalitarian effort to expose today’s students to the dramatic arts. On top of that, in the dog days of August it’s hard to beat almost two hours of lively performance in an air-conditioned theater for $5.00!

Bye Bye Birdie plays at Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, through Sunday, August 16th with performances at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday and 2:30 on Sunday.

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