Theatre Review: Bye Bye Birdie

Based loosely on the phenomenon of Elvis Presley and his draft notice into the Army in 1957, Bye Bye Birdie explores the pop music scene and mania of the 1950’s.

Presented by The Metropolitan Musical Theatre Company of SA Inc. (aka The Met)
Reviewed 12th October 2017

Based loosely on the phenomenon of Elvis Presley and his draft notice into the Army in 1957, Bye Bye Birdie explores the pop music scene and mania of the 1950’s. As rock star Conrad Birdie (Matthew Pugsley) embarks on his farewell tour, his ill-fated manager Albert Peterson (Paul Rodda), with the help of his secretary and girlfriend Rose Alvarez (Celeste Barone), attempts to produce a final hit single before the singer leaves for military training. They select a sweet, idolising girl from one of the many Conrad Birdie fan clubs to give Birdie, as the new song suggests, One Last Kiss. As Peterson grows closer to Alvarez along the way, Albert’s pompous, judgemental mother pulls out all the stops to discourage the budding romance.

The Met has delivered a smooth, fresh take on this classic musical.

Rodda brings with him a wealth of experience to the altruistic and bad-tempered Albert Peterson. His over-the-top facial expressions, and contagious, loveable persona, evoked much laughter from the opening night crowd. Presentational theatre at its best! Celeste Barone delivered a fine performance of Rose Alvarez, with the perfect balance of sensitivity and humour. Her rendition of An English Teacher was particularly poignant, whilst her The Shriner Ballet was especially funny.

Matthew Puglsey shone in the title role of Conrad Birdie. His vocals, particularly in Honestly Sincere, were sublime, and completely convincing as a 50’s popstar. Giula-Giorgina Condoluci was excellent as the sweet, naïve Kim MacAfee, who is torn between her boyfriend and her celebrity crush, Conrad; a situation that escalates when she is chosen to be the recipient Conrad’s televised kiss. Her soprano tones in One Boy were beautiful. Russell Ford, Di Mason, and Harry Ince* round out the rest of MacAfee family convincingly.

For this reviewer, however, Jenny Bowen’s Mama Mae Peterson stole the show. Bowen commanded the stage whenever she was on it, and her exceptional comic timing and outrageous dialogue had the audience in fits of laughter. Her A Mother Doesn’t Matter Anymore was hilarious.

In his directorial debut, Gordon Combes’ staging was first-class; the blocking was striking and fresh, and scene changes were predominantly short and unobtrusive. Carmel Vistoli’s choreography was simple and effective, and executed skilfully by the large, high-standard ensemble. Their vocals, under the musical direction of Paul Sinkinson, were excellent. This, along with Gordon Combes and Leonie Osborn’s multi-coloured, cartoon-esque set design, and Osborn and Vistoli’s stunning costumes, transported audiences completely into the vibrant, energetic world of the rock ‘n’ roll era.

Unfortunately, on opening night, the performance was plagued with sound mishaps: many lines were missed, which ultimately decreased the comedic value, and the band often overpowered the cast. However, these issues did not detract from the production.

Bye Bye Birdie is a light-hearted night away from the complicated world we live in. The Met have a first-class production on their hands.

*The role of Randolph MacAfee is played alternatively by Harry Ince and Paul Komninos.

Reviewed by Ben Francis

Venue:  The Arts Theatre
Season:  12th-14th, & 17th-21st October 2017
Duration:  2.5 hours
Tickets:  $23.90 – $34.00


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