We gave it a C+
In the realm of cheesy musicals, Bye Bye Birdie has long been a heavyweight, bubbling with silly gags, trite lyrics, and a windy story. Any review of it should be couched with this important caveat: Birdie is a weak, flawed show blessed with a few catchy, nostalgic tunes. The latest revival — bringing the ’60s tuner back to Broadway for the first time in nearly 50 years — doesn’t transcend the show’s nature. This Birdie is still weak, cheesy, and trite. But even so, it’s fun.
Rather than innovate, this production relies mostly on nostalgia. The casting capitalizes on the throwback appeal of John Stamos, who talk-sings his way through his dorky and befuddled spin on Albert, the manager to just-drafted Conrad Birdie, a teen idol who’s giving one kiss to a lucky girl before shipping off to war. Albert’s love interest, his secretary Rose, is played by Gina Gershon, a typically strong actress who never fully embodies what should be a saucy and strong Latina character (especially during the absurd rendition of ”Spanish Rose”). The young lovebirds — Allie Trimm as about-to-be-kissed Kim MacAfee and Nolan Gerard Funk as Birdie — are forgettable. Trimm plays Kim too wide-eyed and innocent, with none of the womanly verve of Ann-Margaret, who played the role in the 1963 movie. Oddly, the character of Birdie has always been shadowy at best. And Funk’s most memorable moment comes, sadly and fittingly, when the chiseled actor appears on stage in his tighty whiteys and slurps a beer, which glistens as it cascades down his chest and abs.
While none of the musical numbers manage to move beyond karaoke renditions or feel particularly fresh, fan favorites like ”A Lot of Livin’ to Do” and ”Put on a Happy Face” are charismatic in that I-want-to-sing-along way. ”Telephone Hour,” featuring the show’s teenagers spinning in candy-colored phone booths, is a particular highlight. But otherwise, the sets are spare and cold, and the costuming misses by spanning both the decade before and after the ’60s.
Earth-shattering Birdie is not — but it’s not intended to be. Despite its flaws, it’s still an effervescent, toe-tapping indulgence. And the show’s main theme — the fantasy of a teen idol — couldn’t be more applicable to today. Think about the hysteria surrounding modern-day Conrads like Robert Pattinson, Zac Efron, and the Jonas Brothers. With that in mind, Birdie does still manage to eeeek out a sweet, contemporary chord. C+
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800.432.7250)