You can't say that the producers of the Broadway revival of Bye Bye Birdie didn't offer theatergoers bang for their buck at a recent preview. Besides the show proper, there was stand-up comedy by Bob Saget and sarcastic jibes thrown by Don Rickles from his seat in the audience.
It was the highlight of the evening, but alas, not to be repeated, as the impromptu performances were the result of a technical snafu that resulted in a lengthy delay.
Unfortunately, the actual production is thoroughly mediocre; a misdirected, miscast, sluggish mishmash of a normally effervescent musical that probably can be seen to more entertaining effect in any of myriad high school productions that occur annually.
This is, surprisingly enough, the first Broadway revival of the show since its premiere 48 years ago. Hopefully, another one will come along in the not-too-distant future to erase the sour taste of this rendition.
Birdie was inspired by Elvis Presley's induction into the Army and the resulting hysteria. Michael Stewart's book, though slight, has many amusing moments, and the score by Charles Strouse (music) and Lee Adams (lyrics) includes such endlessly catchy numbers as The Telephone Hour, Put on a Happy Face, Kids, A Lot of Livin' to Do and the title tune (as well as quite a few forgettable ones).
Unfortunately, director-choreographer Robert Longbottom's staging conveys little of the show's charms. The musical numbers are lackluster at best, with even the surefire Telephone Hour, featuring a plethora of Plexiglas panels and sliding phone booths, failing to make much of an impact.
The performances by nearly all of the principals are a major problem. As Conrad Birdie's harried manager, Albert, John Stamos is genial but bland, prosaic at best with his singing and dancing. Gina Gershon, as Albert's romantically frustrated secretary, Rose, is similarly uninspired, seeming comfortable only when finally given the opportunity to don a slinky outfit and do some serious vamping.
The normally reliable Bill Irwin, in the father role essayed so memorably by Paul Lynde, seems to be in another show, applying broad clowning techniques that are completely out of sync with the performances surrounding him.
Nolan Gerard Funk might be a star on Nickelodeon, but as Conrad Birdie, he is less suggestive of Elvis than of a missing Jonas brother. Allie Trimm is sweetly appealing as starstruck teen Kim, but neither Jayne Houdyshell, as Albert's guilt-dispensing mother, nor Dee Hoty, as Kim's patient mother, are able to do much with their roles.
The show, housed in Broadway's newest venue, the handsome Henry Miller's Theater (only the original facade of the venerable original has been retained), is a serious misfire for the Roundabout Theater Company. Those with fond memories of the original production or, more likely, the 1963 movie version recently given a shout-out on Mad Men, are advised to steer clear.