‘Bye Bye Birdie,’ hello musical extravaganza at Gulfport Little Theatre

Back row, Taylor Barnes and Sami Sabbagh and, front row, Jordan Bell, Christian Longino, Megan Walters and Juliana Lewis rehearse for Gulfport Little Theater’s production of ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’
Back row, Taylor Barnes and Sami Sabbagh and, front row, Jordan Bell, Christian Longino, Megan Walters and Juliana Lewis rehearse for Gulfport Little Theater’s production of ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’ Special to the Sun Herald

Gulfport Little Theatre’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie” takes you back to 1960s small-town America where rock ’n’ roll teen heartthrob Conrad Birdie is drafted into the Army.

Before he leaves, he chooses an All-American girl with whom to share a goodbye kiss in this classic musical performed by a youthful cast.

This vintage Brodway show — book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse — is directed Bonnie Hoag.

The mostly teen cast woos the audience with show-stopping tunes and well-measured acting performances.

Taylor Barnes (Albert Patterson) proves both an accomplished warbler and graceful dancer, tapping, acting, singing and gliding his way to a memorable performance.

He is well met by his would be love, Jordan Bell, as Rose Alvarez, whose acting chops propel her to the top of the class in this enjoyable production.

She is a wonder to watch and talented far beyond what you would ordinarily expect from such an ingénue performer.

Together, as in the first scene leading into Barnes’s renowned number, “Put on a Happy Face,” they get the audience in the mood for an old-time whimsical musical extravaganza.

It’s difficult to single out any performers from this stellar cast, but Megan Walters as Kim MacAfee proves that Barnes’ on-the-mark singing and dancing is not a fluke for this show, while the hysterical David Reeves offers comic relief as Mr. MacAffee.

And, of course, this show could never fly without a riveting Conrad Birdie, and Sami Sabbaugh more than fills that bill with his expert singing and energetic acting.

One of the few adults in the cast, Jim Russell, playing two roles, is a welcome addition to the show, as is 10- year-old Porter Lewis, who proves that its not just the teens making good on the Gulfport stage.

Frankly, I was surprised at how polished this production seemed during a rehearsal eight days before opening night.

That is the time when most productions tank before summoning the magic essential to make the play succeed.

But this large cast, with all its singing, dancing and complicated choreography, is more settled than many comedies or dramas at this juncture with smaller casts and fewer complications. Much of the credit goes to the cast members’ hard work, but a lion’s share is also due to director Hoag, who has whipped this young cast into very fine shape. It was a treat to watch her direct a rehearsal, calmly pacing in front of the stage, occasionally barking out instructions, e.g., “facial expressions, folks!”

Whatever her methods, they have assured that the audience will not come away from this musical thinking, “weren’t the kids cute,” as opposed to simply, “Wow!”

Hoag, who also designed costumes, got worthy support from assistant director Janice Murphy, music director Melinda Jones and choreographer Michelle Davis-Walker.

Ultimately, the success of this production is due to the dedication of every member of the cast and crew of “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Bye Bye Birdie

Presented by: Gulfport Little Theatre

Where: Pass Road at 13th Ave., Gulfport

Show times/dates: Aug. 18-20, and Aug. 25-27. Friday and Saturday curtains are 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinee is 2 p.m.

Starring: Albert Peterson (Taylor Barnes); Rose Alvarez (Jordan Bell); Conrad Birdie (Sami Sabbagh); Mr. MacAfee (David Reeves); Mrs. MacAfee (Juliana Lewis); Kim MacAfee (Megan Walters); Randolph MacAfee (Porter Lewis); Hugo Peabody (Christian Longino); Ursula Merkle (Mabry Johnson)

Teenagers: Deborah Sue (Caitlyn Hailes); Margie (Mandy Fulton); Alice (Erikka Miller); Harvey Johnson (Corbin Jones); Helen (Stephanie Hailes); Nancy (Olivia Ruiz); Penelope (Bailey McDyer); Suzie (Emma Smith); Karl (Sully Wilson); Freddie (Jonathan Lewis)

One Girl: Stephanie Hailes; Two Sad Girls: Emma Smith, Emma Gibson; Ensemble: Emma Hankins, Katie Lynn, Olivia Marcum, Sidney Grove, Carrie Plunk

Adults: Mrs. Mae Peterson (Logan Tribble); Gloria Rasputin (Caitie Gutierrez del Arroyo); Maude (Jose Gutierrez del Arroyo)

Mayor’s Wife (Reatha Pitman); Mrs. Merkle (Melanie Jones); Policeman (Cody Ghiloni); Reporter, Mr. Johnson (Jim Russell);

Production Staff: Director Bonnie Hoeg; Producer Angel Barnes; Assistant Director Janice Murphy; Music Director Melinda Jones; Choreography Michelle Davis-Walker; Choreography Assistant Josie Davis; Stage Manager Rachel Thone; Set Design Bonnie Hoeg; Light Design Trey Brazeal; Assistant Light Design: Janice Murphy; Costume Design: Bonnie Hoeg; Set Construction: Sean Murphy; Light Operator: Janice Murphy; Prop Mistress: Mandy Johnson; Photographer: Joe Molina.

Synopsis: A loving send-up of the 1960s, small-town America, and rock ’n’ roll, “Bye Bye Birdie” is about teen heartthrob Conrad Birdie who has been drafted, so he chooses All-American girl Kim MacAfee for a very public farewell kiss. Hit songs include “Put on a Happy Face,” “One Last Kiss,” “One Boy,” “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” “Kids!” and “Rosie.”

Tickets: $16 general admission, $13 military/seniors, $11 students.

Reservations/details: 228-864-7983 or www.gulfportlittletheatre.org