CONRAD BIRDIE (RHETT GUTER) AND HIS FANS PHOTO BY DIANE SOBOLEWSKI
Think James Dean Meets Elvis Presley. Think bad boy merges with heartthrob. Think wild teenage girls mooning and moaning over singing sensation with swivel hips and sassy lips aplenty. Come meet Conrad Birdie, the star of the smash musical “Bye Bye Birdie” flying high at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam until Thursday, September 8.
Sweet Apple, Ohio and its residents will never be the same again after it is announced that Conrad Birdie will go there to plant a big kiss on Kim MacLee, the president of one of his biggest fan clubs, as a farewell gesture before he goes into the army. This prominent press publicity stunt is the brainchild of Conrad’s manager’s secretary Rosie and getting it televised on the Ed Sullivan Show nationwide is a five-star bonus.
With a book by Michael Stewart, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams, “Bye Bye Birdie” is a “happy face” happening from the first party-line telephone hello to the last railroad station goodbye. Rhett Guter is a standout as the man of the hour, about to enter the military, trying to be brave and obedient as he follows the letter of the law set down by his manager Albert, an overwhelmed mama’s boy well portrayed by George Merrick.
Albert only wants the best for the boy, but he is being pulled in different directions by his domineering mother, a tenacious pit bull captured by Kristine Zbornik, one who is dedicated to her son’s well-being and to her plastic rain bonnet. On the other side of the rope pull is Rosie, the faithful and loving Janet Dacal, who wants Albert to abandon show biz, marry her and become the English teacher he was meant to be.
Beyond the orange blossom bouquet is sweetheart Tristen Buettel’s Kim, thrilled to be the lucky girl chosen to receive Conrad’s kiss but conflicted because she has just been pinned by boyfriend Hugo, a not-so-willing-to-share Alex Walton. Kim’s parents, a fantastic Warren Kelley as a perplexed dad, a supportive Donna English as a helpful mom and a great little kid brother Randolph, an adorable Ben Stone-Zelman,all add to the comic chaos.
Grand songs keep popping up, keeping the action merry and dizzying at the same time, as everyone tries to get their heart’s desire. You can’t help but smile and cheer them all along thanks to the inspired direction of Jenn Thompson and her wonderful team.
For tickets ($29 and up ), call Goodspeed Musicals, on the Connecticut River in East Haddam at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org. Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m,, Thursday at 7:30 p.m.(select 2 p.m.), Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. (select 6:30 p.m.).
It’s the 1960’s and young girls are going crazy for Conrad Birdie who is well worthy of their admiration and adoration. Watch out and you’ll find yourself in his fan club in no time at all.