John and I have been wanting to go to a Broadway show since we moved here but haven’t really been able to justify the cost; even when you stand in the TKTS line, tickets are still pretty expensive, the cheapest usually running you at least $75 each. I guess I should have put two and two together a few months ago when John was asking which shows I’d like to see the most, and it probably should have been like a frying pan to the head when he asked me “so hypothetically, where would be the best place to sit in a theater?” several weeks ago, but I was still so surprised and excited when he gave me tickets to Bye Bye Birdie for my birthday.
Bye Bye Birdie isn’t one of my favorite shows – the songs are hokey and have ridonkulous lyrics (although I do ashamedly admit that I really like “One Boy”, eek), the dialogue isn’t particularly funny or clever, and the plot is thin – but it’s energetic and spunky and colorful and fun just as a high school production, so imagine it on a big Broadway stage, right?
I love musical theater, and I’m a pretty easily excitable person by nature, so I was totally into the show when it started. The first act begins with video on a large curtain, which is kind of cool and something I hadn’t seen done before – images of screaming 60s teen fan-girls, mod 60s stuff, etc. – but then the actual scene begins with John Stamos and Gina Gershon and in hindsight, it was pretty freaking boring even though I wouldn’t have said so while I was watching it. The two have absolutely zero chemistry and he was so obviously trying too hard and she was so obviously not. The show ends with their wedding, and had they asked the congregation if there were any objections to the union, I’m pretty sure there would have been a unanimous “ME!!!”
Before the show I told John that the big thing with Birdie is the “Telephone Hour” scene and that I was looking forward to seeing what they would do with a big Broadway budget and talent. Currently my favorite TV show is King of the Crown, so I’m clearly a very base, moronic demographic; when the scene was over, I had a grin on my face and thought “that was cute!” But as much as I really, really wanted to love it, I knew it was bland, uninspired, and lazy.
I suppose that sentence sums up the whole experience – I really wanted to love it, but I knew it was bland, uninspired, and lazy. The set, the directing, the costumes, the choreography and the level of dancing talent in general – it just wasn’t as lively and exciting as it should be.
In the movie, Ann-Margaret plays the role of Kim McAfee so dreamily and starry-eyed; it’s kind of hard not to laugh at her whispered, romantic delivery (in a good way). The girl playing Kim on stage is quite the opposite – she’s more like the annoying girl you went to high school with who starred in every school play who you wanted to slap around a bit every time she opened her mouth. You never get that boy-crazy, romance-starved teenage girl feeling because she’s simply too controlled. Bill Irwin plays her father, and he was so annoyingly over-the-top that I found myself thinking, “why the hell is he playing Mr. McAfee as John Waters on ecstasy?”
I think the worst moment of the show was the “Spanish Rose” number. Gina Gershon is not a particularly good actress or singer, and she sort of sleepwalked through the entire thing, but when you’re supposed to be playing a fed-up, fiery Latina, this isn’t really the best approach. She’s right up there with Don Pablo’s as one of the worst faux-Mexicans of all time. They didn’t do a set change either, so she was singing this lively song in front of a schoolyard jungle gym and nothing more. The lyrics are borderline offensive by today’s standards, but with the proper staging and imagination, it could have been pulled off as funny.
All in all, it’s really a shame that this production didn’t take any creative risks and really make Birdie fly (har har). It hasn’t been revived since it originally was staged in the 60s, and there is so much potential, what with “High School Musical” and the teeny-bopper thing being so prominent at the moment. Maybe the producers and directors should have attended a Jonas Brothers concert for some ideas. Those silly girls should have been both their inspiration and their target audience . . . and with all the sophisticated staging they get from movies and music videos these days, there’s no way their already minute attention spans will last.
No standing ovation (eek, I didn’t think that really happened on Broadway), and the crowd was merciless in the lobby.
To end it with a positive note: John Stamos’ voice has a surprisingly nice tone and even though it wasn’t the greatest show, I still had so much fun! Getting to go to a Broadway show (not to mention being able to walk home from it) will always be, to me, such an awe-inspiring thing. It was a great birthday gift, and will always be special as it was my very first show as a New Yorker. Can’t wait for the next one!