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Wootton brings the ‘50’s to life in 'Birdie'

Sarah McCully, a student at Albert Einstein High School, reviews “Bye Bye Birdie” performed by Thomas S. Wootton High School as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.


Wootton’s Jeffrey Popkin, Ari Halevy, Sean Hamilton, Sergey Feldman, Helena Farhi, Joe Ray and Adam Uslan. (Photo by Kenneth H. Cho)

When rock legend Elvis Presley was drafted into the Army in 1958, millions of teenage girls felt their enamored hearts break as they considered the possibility of being separated from their icon. The fictional Conrad Birdie elicits a similar reaction from his adoring fans in the Broadway classic “Bye Bye Birdie”, when a publicity stunt upends small town America and changes the lives of the characters forever. Thomas S. Wootton High School’s enlightening production of this musical captured the spirit of the obsessive, irrational love for celebrity and transported the audience into the colorful world of the '50s.

The curtain opened to reveal an interesting, geometric set. Any fears of unsuccessful maneuvering of such an immense, complex construction were soon quelled as the highly competent stage crew proved their worth during blackouts, transitioning between scenes quickly and silently. The lighting was also executed well; a few issues with lost faces were offset by intricate effects downstage indicating changes in tone, time and weather. There were some microphone problems, and some lines were lost due to lack of sound. However, the actors were able to compensate for these losses and the flubs were corrected quickly. All in all, the color and energy put into the technical aspects of the show helped contribute to the performance’s overall optimistic appeal.

Many performers stood out as talented and energetic actors and singers, especially Jonathan Helwig as the iconic Conrad Birdie. He was never out of character, and both his voice and body language channeled the King of Rock’s legendary mannerisms. He stood out in the number “Honestly Sincere,” where his performance and the reactions from the cast produced the most entertaining and lively number of the show. Other standouts included Lauren Fagan as Kim MacAfee, whose fluttery soprano voice was perfect for her role and sounded lovely on many difficult high notes, and Divya Mouli as the disturbingly dedicated fan girl Ursula, whose enthusiastic and hilarious delivery of lines helped round out a highly competent cast.

The vocals in Wootton’s production were also superb, especially during the songs “One Boy,” “Hymn for a Sunday Evening,” and “Baby, Talk to Me,” where tight, beautiful harmonies were sung by the actors. At times, some songs and scenes seemed a little rushed, but never enough to confuse the audience. Some characters were also a little difficult to understand, but their energy and enthusiasm helped make up for these losses.

Wootton’s “Bye Bye Birdie” was a vivacious compilation of fun and talent. Its problems did not overshadow its successes. By the final curtain, the production left the audience with a buoyant message: sometimes excitement and love are more important than any other serious complications life might throw your way.

By Sarah McCully, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  April 22, 2010; 2:38 AM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2010  
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