Theater Review: BYE BYE BIRDIE (Palm Canyon Theatre)

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by Jason Mannino on July 8, 2024

in Theater-Palm Springs (Coachella Valley)


Waxing nostalgic about the 1950s is never out of style as Palm Canyon Theatre ably proves with their current production of Bye Bye Birdie running through July 14. Bye Bye Birdie is a classic musical, famous for its satirical take on rock ‘n’ roll and its takeover of pop culture in America (namely, the effect Elvis Presley getting drafted had on teenagers). It was never meant to be taken too seriously. In director Derik Shopinksi’s deft production, it remains a bright, playful offering just perfect for a frolicking very-hot-summer diversion.

Rock-and-roll superstar Conrad Birdie (Joshua Rach) is being drafted into the army. To capitalize on this, his manager Albert Peterson (Jonathan Brett) and Albert’s secretary and girlfriend Rosie Alvarez (Dani Jara Lasaca) devise a publicity stunt: Before heading to war, Conrad will bestow “one last kiss” on a lucky teenage fan during a live television broadcast of The Ed Sullivan Show.

Kim MacAfee (Jackie Doyle-Padgett) from Sweet Apple, Ohio, is thrilled by the news that she has been chosen to kiss Conrad, but her excitement causes chaos in her family and among her peers. Her boyfriend Hugo Peabody (Jackson Enzler) becomes jealous, and her parents are both bemused and concerned by the sudden spotlight on their daughter. Albert, pressured by his overbearing mother Mae (Jo Beth Henry), must navigate his professional ambitions and personal life, particularly his relationship with Rosie, who is tired of waiting for him to commit to marriage.

Coachella Valley has a new star in Jonathan Brett, who embodies Albert with grace, charm, humor and a sweet vulnerability. He simply shined in some of the show’s classic numbers, particularly “Put on a Happy Face,” “Talk to Me,” and “Rosie” (this is the song I could not stop humming as I left the theater). Rach brings the requisite energy, sensuality, and rock star appeal to Conrad’s major numbers “One Last Kiss” and “A Lot of Livin’.” Enzler’s Hugo is sweet and innocent until his seemingly unrequited love for Kim drives him to the bottle. Tim Steele showcases his comic chops in the role of Harry, Kim’s disgruntled father. Rounding out the men, one of the most endearing roles in Birdie is Harvey Johnson, an awkward teen portrayed delightfully by Ronny Borelli.

Lasaca showcases a perfect blend of strength, wit, and warmth as Rosie. Doyle-Padgett effectively takes us on Kim’s journey from starstruck teenager to a more self-assured young woman with sincerity and innocence. Jo Beth Henry steals the show every time she steps on stage with her deliciously hysterical turn as Mae Peterson. Perfectly cast as Doris MacAfee, Michele Davis shines in scenes with husband Harry, most notably in “Kids.” Not to be outdone, Sanai Wright also offers lots of funny bits as the swooning, screaming, Birdie fangirl, Ursula.

The ensemble in this production is one of the best I have seen on the Palm Canyon Theatre stage. Production numbers “The Telephone Hour” and “A Lot of Livin’” take exuberant flight given Se Layne’s refreshing and vibrant choreography, Chuck Peery’s Musical Direction is tight, and J.W. Layne’s scenic design captures the nostalgic charm of 1958 America from small-town Ohio to the Sullivan television studio set, and in the cleverly designed “Telephone Hour” windows.

With its nostalgic charm, catchy tunes, and a diversion from the news, Bye Bye Birdie is an absolute delight.

photos by Sonny Von Cleveland

Bye Bye Birdie
Palm Canyon Theater, 538 North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs
Thurs at 7; Fri and Sat at 8; Sat & Sun at 2
ends on July 14, 2024
for tickets ($17-$38), call 760.323.5123 or visit PCT

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