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Roundabout Theatre Company Revives "Bye Bye Birdie" at Henry Miller's Theatre
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Roundabout Theatre Company Revives "Bye Bye Birdie" at Henry Miller's Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Roundabout Theatre Company
Todd Haimes, Artistic Director
Harold Wolpert, Managing Director
Julia C. Levy, Executive Director

John Stamos, Gina Gershon,
And Bill Irwin

Bye Bye Birdie

Book by Michael Stewart
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Lee Adams

Directed and Choreographed by Robert Longbottom

With: Nolan Gerard Funk, Jayne Houdyshell,
Dee Hoty, Matt Doyle
Jake Evan Schwencke, Allie Trimm
And an Ensemble of Actors/Singers/Dancers

Henry Miller’s Theatre
124 West 43rd Street

Set Design: Andrew Jackness
Costume Design: Gregg Barnes
Lighting Design: Ken Billington
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Projection Design: Howard Werner
Musical Director & Conductor: David Holcenberg
Music Coordinator: Howard Joines
Hair & Wig Design: David Brian Brown
Makeup Designer: Angelina Avallone
Production Stage Manager: Peter Hanson
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA & Kate Boca
Associate Director: Tom Kosis
Technical Supervisor: Steve Beers
Executive Producer: Sydney Beers
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Director of Marketing - Sales Promotions: David B. Steffen
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Assoc. Artistic Director: Scott Ellis
Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
Music Supervisor/Vocal - Dance Arrangements: David Chase

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 20, 2009

Bye Bye Birdie is one of my longtime favorite shows, and I had anticipated its arrival on Broadway for many months. What a disappointment, one of the worst revivals I’ve ever attended. The book by Michael Stewart is early 60’s, but captivating, a story about a quasi-Elvis rock star, Conrad Birdie (Nolan Gerard Funk), going into the Army, and his offer of one last kiss to a Sweet Apple, Ohio high school fan, Kim MacAfee (Allie Trimm). Kim’s family, Mr. Harry MacAfee (Bill Irwin), Mrs. MacAfee (Dee Hoty), and Kim’s younger brother Randolph (Jake Evan Schwencke) are all invited to appear on the Sunday night Ed Sullivan show, for the big kiss.

Birdie’s music manager, Albert Peterson (John Stamos), is caught between his work, his secretary, Rose Alvarez (Gina Gershon), and his mother, Mrs. Mae Peterson (Jayne Houdyshell). Kim is caught between her obsession with Conrad Birdie and her boyfriend, Hugo Peabody (Matt Doyle). And the ensemble of teenagers is not caught at all, as they scream, squeal, screech, and sing “We Love You Conrad”. Unfortunately, this teen ensemble gives the only in-tune performance of the night, as Mr. Stamos, Ms. Gershon, and Mr. Irwin speak-sing their big numbers with jarring, discordant chatter. This was one show that Conductor, David Holcenberg, should have seized for his orchestra. In fact, the sound system was so ineffective that many of the stars’ spoken lines were lost, while their tuneless songs streamed through the theatre. It should be noted that Mr. Funk, with his rock star status, sang with melody, but performed with uncharismatic drabness, including “Honestly Sincere’.

Charles Strouse’s music and Lee Adams’ lyrics, although engaging and memorable, were treated shabbily by this production’s casting. I’m not a fan of bringing television and film stars to lead Broadway roles, just to push ticket sales, unless those stars elevate and enlarge their roles. To bring John Stamos, Bill Irwin, and Gina Gershon to a renowned re-staging of a Broadway musical, the first in almost half a century, is beyond misconceived. It’s an insult to the audience, and the lack of a standing ovation was instant proof. Mr. Stamos and Ms. Gershon acted with plasticity and shallowness, and their on-again off-again romance could have been phoned in. Rose’s “An English Teacher” and the duo’s “Rosie” left me yearning for the 1963 film, starring Dick Van Dyke, Maureen Stapleton, Janet Leigh, Paul Lynde, Bobby Rydell, and the never boring Ann-Margret.

Bill Irwin, the show’s other top-billed star, so superb on Broadway in Waiting for Godot and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, added shtick to his out-of-tune songs, with mime-infused antics. Matt Doyle performed with straight sitcom style, but was persuasive and amusing. Dee Hoty was understated and over-typed as Kim’s mother, while Allie Trimm as Kim, Conrad’s Ohio teen fan, showed performance potential, but was swallowed by the staging. Two cast members, however, stood out for notable personas: Jayne Houdyshell, as Albert’s blustery, brazen, breathless mother, a truly enjoyable character in this character-weak production, and Jake Evan Schwencke, Kim’s kid brother, adorable and witty, another breath of fresh air.

Robert Longbottom, the show’s Director, took a short-sighted view of what could have been a rave revival. Instead, he turned the big stage into a small screen event. Speaking of screens, Howard Werner’s black-white crowd projections were on-the-mark and evocative of the 50’s Elvis concert, magazine images. Andrew Jackness’ sets were mixed, with Kim’s bedroom, decorated with Conrad Birdie regalia, eye-catching, and “The Telephone Hour”, multiple phone booth set, on one boring level. The Central Movie Theatre set for Act I’s big closer, “One Last Kiss”, was confusing and cluttered. I hope someone will take the torch and bring this show Off-Broadway, small stage, big voices, and no television stars, please. This is New York, not Sweet Apple, Ohio, and there’s talent all over town.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at