PLAYHOUSE REVIEW Say hello to 'Bye Bye Birdie'

Donna Smith Downie shines as the irritating Mae Peterson.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Youngstown Playhouse was transformed Thursday evening into Sweet Apple, Ohio, for the opening performance of the musical comedy "Bye Bye Birdie."
The musical's plot centers around an Elvis-esque character, Conrad Birdie, who has been drafted into the U.S. Army. His manager comes up with a scheme to sell more records by having the hip-wiggling star bestow a symbolic "one last kiss" on the president of the Sweet Apple chapter of his fan club, Kim McAfee, before he leaves
Of course, this leads to no small amount of consternation on the part of Kim's boyfriend, Hugo, and her father, Harry McAfee. Harry is easily dealt with by being given a promise of an appearance on his favorite show, "The Ed Sullivan Show," but Hugo is more difficult to deal with.
Birdie's manager, Albert Peterson, is torn three ways in trying to deal with the recalcitrant star, his own love interest and secretary, Rose Alvarez, and his domineering, meddlesome mother, Mae Peterson.
Cast: Although the entire cast gave good, solid performances, the stellar-quality performance was that of Donna Smith Downie as the irritating Mae Peterson. Her comedic timing and delivery were flawless, as was costuming of her character, whose personality can only be described as manure-like -- always underfoot and causing a stink.
Tim Anderson and Kara Nelson as Albert and Rose were in fine form, as was Tom Gent as Harry.
Also noteworthy was the performance of Amanda Beagle as Kim McAfee. Her excellent soprano voice carried well, though it seemed a bit classical for the rock 'n' roll-style tunes of this show. Of special note was her beautiful rendition of "One Special Boy."
Matthew Rider seemed to thoroughly enjoy characterizing Conrad Birdie as he wiggled about the stage, causing the young fans to swoon and scream incessantly.
Excellent little details and character nuances enlivened the minor roles played by Matthew J. DiBattiste, JoAnn Winterbauer, Joey Monda, Laura Barba, Jonathan Emerson, Tom Hathhorn, Barbara Evans, Lynne Marie Mohr and Nathan Beagle.
Chorus: As with most larger musicals, a lot of the stage work and less of the glory rests with the ensemble, all of whom populated Sweet Apple in fine form and deserve high praise for their artistry.
The orchestra, under the able direction of Michael J. Moritz, was outstanding, keeping the tempo of the plot running smoothly and featuring the talents of Rachel May, Stephen Ley, Tom Mastramico and Joseph Commarata.
Director Jason M. Beagle gives the play the whimsical flavor needed for the 1950s-era setting. Thus, some of the corniness of the plot and lines work well to make for a pleasant evening of musical theater.

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