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You’ll flip when you see the Los Alamos High School Olions’ production of “Bye, Bye Birdie.”
Seriously. The 1950s weren’t so hot for women’s rights, world peace or suspected Communists, but they were great for music and theater. The local drama club and director Holly Haas made a way boss decision when they picked “Birdie” for their annual musical.
For those unfamiliar with the basic story, here’s the low-down. It’s 1958 and if you’re a high-school girl, you love Conrad Birdie. He’s rock’n’roll’s handsome, pelvis-wielding bad-boy – and most utterly tragically, he’s also a newly-drafted private in the U.S. armed forces. He’s off to Korea and by the time he returns, you’ll be too old for him. But all hope is not lost: Before he ships out, one ridiculously lucky fan will receive one final, televised kiss.
The ambitious production has 17 scenes, requiring multiple sets, more than four dozen cast members, tons of tech and loads of costumes.
But somehow, the Olions made it work.
Conductor Gretchen Amstulz and her pit orchestra add so much to the show, which, with its long list of jaunty tunes, must have been as much fun for the musicians as it was for the audience. Classics like “Put on a Happy Face,” “What Did I Ever See in Him?,” “Kids” and others are even perkier live than you might ever have thought possible.
Musical Director Paula Nichols deserves a massive amount of credit as well for bringing so much life to these numbers. Every single song, through the whole show, sounds like vintage 1950s and feels absolutely polished. The vocalists nail nearly every note.
The sets, like the songs, are adorable: bright, inordinately cheerful, bursting with energy. Haas and her set crew created an especially brilliant stage for “Telephone Hour” – a pile of neon cubicles, or an unhinged doll-house, packed with gossiping teenage girls.
Cathy Bearden, Nora Lamartine and Susan Baker-Dillingham choreographed dances to perfectly express the ever-shifting state of the plot.
When emotions run high on newly discovered estrogen, the dancing is sweet and feminine. When the girls have reason to despise their facial-haired counterparts, the dancing turns dark and men get gracefully beheaded. In “Spanish Rose,” the dancing is gritty, funny, cathartic and even a little sublime.
“Spanish Rose” is a signature piece for Rosie Alverez, played by Bethany Sullivan. While there are several stars in “Bye, Bye Birdie,” Sullivan truly stands out.
She has a rich, uninhibited voice, dances beautifully and offers a completely convincing, always eloquent stage presence.
Craig Mortensen, playing Sullivan’s leading man Albert Peterson, sings wonderfully as well and holds his own against two strong actresses – both Sullivan and Anna Hodgson, who plays Albert’s outrageous and overbearing mother Mae.
Extra kudos must also go to Arica Baughman as teen heroine Kim MacAfee, Stuart Rupprecht as glitter-clad Conrad Birdie, Ethan Kellogg as concerned father and Ed-Sullivan fan Harry MacAfee, Shelby Stringer as Kim’s best friend and hugest Birdie fan ever Ursula Merkle and Chelsy Smith as the scene-stealing tap-dancing secretary.
The Olions will present “Bye, Bye Birdie” at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Duane Smith Auditorium. Tickets are $12, $7 for students and seniors. Don’t settle for the highly– compromised 1963 feature film. Go to the auditorium this weekend, see a happening show and support a completely scream-worthy troupe.