Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Theater review: Say hello to 'Bye Bye Birdie' at the Heights Players

By Louise Crawford

“Bye Bye Birdie,” that musical war-horse by Charles Strouse, Lee Adams and Michael Stewart, performed in high school auditoriums nationwide since its award-winning Broadway run in 1960, stands strong at the Heights Players in Brooklyn Heights.

You’d have to be a curmudgeonly lout not to put on a happy face during a show with a chorus of real teenage bobby-soxers, an Elvis and Ed Sullivan impersonator, a Jewish mother to end all Jewish mothers, once-topical jokes about Henry Luce, Fidel Castro, Peter Lawford, Lamont Cranston and Mussolini, and a score that includes such songwriting gems as “Kids,” “A Lot A Livin’ to Do” and “Telephone Hour.”

Casting is always a strong card at the Heights Players and there were many standouts in the well-oiled, multi-age ensemble, well directed by Thomas Tyler. Marlene Berner as Rosie, the part played by Chita Rivera on Broadway, is a performer to watch. Berner can sing, dance and act with subtly, humor and gusto (calling all casting agents, this woman is good). Long-time Heights player Thomas Urciuoli, in the role of Harry MacAfee, gives Paul Lynde a run for his money as the very funny, hyperventilating dad who goes apoplectic at the word puberty. Adam Kemmerer’s punky, gyrating and understated Conrad Birdie (pictured) is winning, as is the uber-comedic Gail Lemelbaum as Albert’s kvetchy mother. Ashley Fedor as Kim is a charmer with an effortless and expressive soprano and real acting and comedy chops. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of Sabrina Fernandez as Kim’s little sister, Randi. This cutie is well beyond her 11 years when it comes to credible singing, acting and comedy.

The “How to Kill A Man” dream sequence choreographed by Aurora Dredger was unexpectedly original and highly amusing. Other highpoints in a show of musical high points include the brilliant, “Hymn for a Sunday Evening,” the rollicking, “Lot A’ Livin’ To Do,” the always endearing (and oft-quoted) “Telephone Hour,” and “Baby Talk to Me,” with the very tall and talented Andrew Schoomaker as Albert and the adult ensemble.

The Heights Players always add unexpected touches (and forgivable liberties) and the “no cellphone” speech added to the beginning of the show was a slam-dunk positing Harvey Johnson (Chad Fusco), the show’s iconic nerd, as the inventor of the cellphone.

My guess is that this effusive “Bye Bye Birdie” will get better and better as its talented, big and big-hearted cast performs it through May 29.

“Bye Bye Birdie” at the Heights Players [26 Willow Pl. between State and Joralemon streets in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 237-2752], now through May 29, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $18. For info, visit


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