Bye Bye Birdie -- Theater Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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 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 of course inspired by Elvis Presley's induction into the Army and the resulting hysteria that ensued. 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 sure-fire "Telephone Hour," featuring a plethora of plexiglass 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 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 Theatre (only the original facade of the venerable original has been retained), is a serious misfire for the Roundabout Theatre 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.

Venue: Henry Miller's Theatre, New York (Through Jan. 10)
Cast: John Stamos, Gina Gershon, Bill Irwin, Nolan Gerard Funk, Jayne Houdyshell, Dee Hoty, Matt Doyle, Jake Evan Schwencke, Allie Trimm
Book: Michael Stewart
Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Lee Adams
Director-choreographer: Robert Longbottom
Set designer: Andrew Jackness
Costume designer: Gregg Barnes
Lighting designer: Ken Billington
Sound designer: Acme Sound Partners
Projection designer: Howard Werner