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‘Bye bye Birdie’ is rollicking good fun

Jules Becker | 7/19/2012, 9:23 a.m.
   

If Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston audiences are looking younger lately, “Bye Bye Birdie” is a good reason why.

Inspired by the sadness of teen fans over Elvis Presley’s 1957 draft notice, the 1961 Tony Award best musical depends upon a largely young cast. Two very energetic ensemble members -- actor-dancers Darren Bunch, 20, and Nahshon Rosenfeld, 17 -- recently spoke to the Banner about their work in “Bye Bye Birdie and their budding careers in musical theater.

Bunch is no stranger to the show, having played song-writer/music agent Albert Peterson in his last school production at Whitman Hanson Regional High. The Boston Conservatory student realized early “that I could do something I like in college and hope it could take me somewhere.”

Nahshon has embraced “Birdie” with equal fervor. The Brookline-born, Allston-based Walnut Hill School student “was going to do a summer intensive program, but I decided to do this show.”

“The chance to do a show at Reagle was great, “he added.

Like Bunch, Rosenfeld has been steadily gaining theater experience. At 14, he took on the flashy role of Carmen Ghia in a Newton Summer Stage production of “The Producers.”


The ambitious teenager has also worked with Theater for Young Audiences in a recent edition of “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley,” an hour-long adaptation of an acclaimed series of children’s books.

His five roles included such characters as a young kid at a sleepover party, a doctor and a French museum curator. This past spring, he got to dance extensively as part of the ensemble for his school’s staging of the hit Gershwin musical “Anything Goes.”

“Bye Bye Birdie” is a musical that explores generation gaps between music agent Albert and his mother on the one hand and between parents and kids on the other. Director-choreographer Larry Sousa has wisely camped up the generations’ responses -- especially those of the younger characters.

Younger theatergoers may be clueless about the Ed Sullivan Show and other earlier cultural phenomena but all audience members understand the ongoing fascination of the public with celebrity. Sousa has the young Birdie fans jumping vividly to reflect that fascination.


The cast of the Reagle “Birdie” are generally as strong as the ensembles. Jacob Sherburne has his comic moments as mother-dominated Albert.  Carman Napier is a vocal and acting standout as Rosie.

She brings remarkable resonance to Rosie’s vision of being Mrs. Albert Peterson and style and grace to her frolicking with the Shriners. Anita Gillette is a hoot as Mae Peterson. Her crack timing and her amusing gesturing turn Mae’s strategies with guilt-ridden Albert into instant hilarity --most notably a slapstick scene involving a garbage can.

Gillian Gordon is engagingly independent as Kim, the girl who is singled out to give Conrad Birdie “One Last Kiss.” Ryan Overberg captures all of Birdie’s pelvic gyrations and shameless ego rants. Naree Ketudat is memorably hyper as Kim’s Birdie-obsessed friend Ursula. Brad Walters lacks fire as Kim’s father Harry, but Matt Phillips as her boyfriend Hugo has a speaking voice as unassuming as his personality.

Reagle’s rollicking “Bye Bye Birdie” will have even the saddest theatergoers putting on a happy face.

Box-Bye Bye Birdie, Reagle Music Theatre, Waltham, through July 22.  781-891-5600 or reaglemusictheatre.org.