Monday, May 3, 1999

Put on a Happy Face

Maybe it's just me (it often times is), but has anyone else faced a growing dilemma in trying to decide how best to select and choose on a limited entertainment budget? The choices are aplenty and expanding nearly every day.

As an example, just recently we have had musical visits from Marilyn Manson and Rod Stewart. Our struggling and well turned over Timberwolves are fighting for a playoff spot. Our feisty Twins are proving the value of youthful enthusiasm. There are several worthwhile movies from The Matrix to Shakespeare in Love to see. Our cities are filled with plenty of art and science museums and fancy restaurants to visit. The fishing opener is just around the corner, and it is always a viable option for one to spend the evening at home hoping to see Bob Dole's ED commercial on TV. Never has there been so many worthwhile options. So it was no small matter that last weekend I chose (and as it turned out quite wisely) to shell out my hard earned dollars to see St. Paul Central's spring production of Bye Bye Birdie.

For those unfamiliar with the plot of the play, it is a story that makes mockery of one of the truly significant moments in American pop culture history- when the establishment usurped the most dangerous element of the counterculture, Elvis Presley, by drafting him into the military.

With hit songs like "A Lot of Livin' To Do," "One Boy" and "Put on a Happy Face," Bye Bye Birdie tells the story of a bumbling music manager who has somehow acquired a hot commodity: Conrad Birdie. Manager Albert Peterson and his spunky secretary, Rose Alvarez, who runs the show, launch a publicity scheme to give Birdie a national sendoff on the Ed Sullivan Show, where he'll bestow an all-American kiss on one lucky girl. Kim MacAfee of Sweet Apple, Ohio, wins the honor. The 15-year-old has just been "pinned" to Hugo, a local boy. The town goes into a tailspin when Birdie arrives and upsets the MacAfee household. Kim's father causes a fuss but then tries to break into the act by hamming on the show. Soon Rose starts to wonder if it is worth all the trouble since Mrs. Peterson, Albert's mother, doesn't like her one tiny bit. In the end, Conrad is drafted, Kim and Hugo get back together, and Albert and Rose get married.

Of course often a play is only as good as its lead actors. Central's effort of Bye Bye Birdie was able to overcome technical glitches (the lights stayed on throughout much of the first act due to a computer problem), and the unfortunate weakness of the script- its failure to demonstrate how Elvis becoming part of the military really did matter (it is much simpler to portray a kitschy tribute to Americana than it is to show that behind the screams and adulation was something dangerous that was closer to teenage angst and the edge than the swooning and seemingly silly crooning.)- because of the excellent work of the two leads, Robin Caperton as Rose Alvarez, and Nathan "Nate" Trygg as Albert Peterson.

Ms. Caperton had a confident stage presence, and strong singing voice. Mr. Trygg is the latest in the line of teen heartthrobs, wooing the young women in the audience like cheeze whiz on a graham cracker. Trygg, making his first substantial stage appearance, demonstrated the potential to become the next Leonardo "Leo" Dicaprio, with his boyish good looks (must run in the family) and graceful stage moves. Comparisons to Dicaprio might be heady stuff but Trygg demonstrated, at the very least, he is well on his way to becoming the next Neil Patrick Harris (TV's Doogie Howser).

All in all nothing quite beats the entertainment value of a quality high school production. The effort that goes into the show, the excitement and nervousness, the earnestness of it all, is the essence of what high school really is about. It was quite evident a lot of hard work and heart went into Central's production. The energy from the stage crackled. The dance numbers had an electricity comparable to that latest fad the kids are so crazy about, swing dancing. And though the spirit of Elvis might have been absent, it was a good fun time nonetheless.

No comments: