Bye Bye Birdie

Presented by Nayland College
Directed by Anton Bentley
Music Director – Nigel Weeks
Reviewed by Jessica D’Ath
Performed by Youth

Nayland College’s production of the 1963 Tony Award Winning musical Bye Bye Birdie, directed by Anton Bentley, and musically directed by Nigel Weeks, is a brilliant example of how to engage young people in musical theatre, without compromising the integrity of the show.

As someone whose life essentially revolves around the musical theatre form, and a high school music and drama teacher myself, I am always somewhat dubious about spending money on youth productions. I find it hard to forgive missed notes, pitchy ensembles or productions which offer subject matter which either results in young actors struggle to portray situations which are beyond their ability to play sympathetically, or which forces audiences to feel uncomfortable about what they are seeing.

Not so with this production. This group of talented teens were expertly directed in a show which was thoughtfully chosen for their age group, yet not stripped down or lacking in themes which challenged them. Sure, it was written before most of their parents were even born, but the themes of teenage obsession with celebrities, overbearing parents and the inevitable search for independence from parental control, are timeless and remain as relevant today as they have ever been.

The costumes were simple, accurate to the period being portrayed, were bright and fun and a joy to witness. It was great to see that the school’s textiles technology class were involved in their creation. The bright colours worked magnificently against the black set, which in itself was a simplistic, genius design comprising of clean levels, and a vinyl record centrepiece on which most of the action took place. Bentley has a great ability to design sets which do not detract from the production, but which allow for maximum play with levels and contrast, whilst not breaking a budget, and this was no exception.

Incredibly, Bentely was also involved in the choreography (along with Tacy Eyles and Stuart Lowe), and this aspect of the show was particularly impressive, in particular the very clever and effective number “The Telephone Hour” in act 1. That number alone, was worth the ticket price.

The cast were enthusiastic and there was not a wrong note amongst them. Indigo Levett was a revelation in her creation of Mae Peterson. Her physical portrayal never once dropped, and her accent was impeccable, not to mention her comic timing which left the audience in stitches every time she came on stage. Also, Ruby-Ann Burgess, who played the long suffering Rosie Alvarez, did a magnificent job of drawing the audience into her frustrated world of the woman scorned, through her commitment to character both vocally and in her interactions with those around her. It was very easy to sympathise with her plight, and I thoroughly enjoyed her vocals throughout, particularly in “Spanish Rose”.

In a production of this size, it is impossible to give feedback to everyone on stage, everyone in this show had a solid grasp of their character, and performed strongly as a group, which is a direct result of excellent directing on Bentley’s part, he should be very proud. The only pieces of advice I have for these young actors is that (and I’m in no doubt that you have already been told this a million times by the highly professional Mr Bentley) you absolutely need to remain in character until you are well off the stage. When you drop out of character as you are coming on or off stage, the audience does see you, and it always makes the onstage energy drop, regardless of whether you are the focus or not.

It was great to see an all female stage crew, which is rare and needs to be encouraged. These girls were flawless in their execution, and although they were visible whilst moving set pieces, I was never distracted from the story by their presence, a great, and chronically underappreciated achievement.

As usual, Weeks led a flawless team of musicians comprised of both semi professional and student musicians, and it was great to hear such a tight and completely live ensemble who have not resorted to click tracks. The only other feedback I have is that some targeted voice coaching would help your cast cope with some of the more difficult numbers, especially when working in the contemporary/rock genre.

A huge congratulations to everyone involved in this production. You should be very proud of what you have put together, and I look forward to seeing what Nayland does next!

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