Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bye Bye Birdie

photo: Jason Schmidt

Sadly, it's true: pretty much all of the criticisms you've heard about Roundabout's new production of Bye Bye Birdie are spot-on. I did enjoy Gina Gershon's performance more than most other critics--more than almost anyone else, she actually seemed invested in what was happening onstage--but she's not much of a singer, and her dancing is painfully labored. John Stamos is a full-on embarrassment, giving the kind of low-energy performance you forget about while he's still center-stage. Most notably, Bill Irwin is dreadfully miscast as Mr. MacAfee, mugging and clowning in an attempt to convince the audience that he's not completely clueless. I'm usually all for age-appropriate casting, but having the Sweet Apple kids played by actual thirteen-to-sixteen-year-olds adds a particularly uncomfortable subtext; watching twenty-three-year old Nolan Gerard Funk gyrate on fourteen-year-old Allie Trimm made me want to pull out my cell-phone and call Chris Hansen. However, one perfect performance does escape the carnage of Robert Longbottom's ugly pastiche staging: Matt Doyle's Hugo Peabody is natural, adorable and highly endearing. It was the first time in a while that I felt I was watching the birth of a true musical theatre star. Doyle was utterly wonderful to watch, but when Hugo Peabody is the most compelling character onstage, you know something has gone terribly wrong.

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