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We love you, Conrad

A 1950s romantic comedy at Centerstage

Photo left to right: Lara McLeod as Rose Alvarez, Duncan Menzies as Conrad Birdie and Joshua Jérard as Albert J. Peterson. Photo credit: Michelle Smith-Lewis

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In 1957, Elvis Presley was drafted into the Army, and millions of teenagers thought the world was coming to an end. This was the inspiration for the early 1960s stage show and movie Bye Bye Birdie starring Dick Van Dyke.

Heartthrob Conrad Birdie (Duncan Menzies) -- based on Elvis but named after country/rock singer Conway Twitty -- has been drafted and is scheduled to leave for boot camp the next day, and his agent, Albert J. Peterson (Joshua Jérard) has cooked up a publicity stunt whereby Birdie is going to the fictional middle-American town of Sweet Apple, Ohio, where he will bestow a goodbye kiss upon the 14-year-old president of the Conrad Birdie fan club and sing the newly penned song "One Last Kiss" -- all of which is to be televised on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Bye Bye Birdie is a lightweight but highly entertaining musical comedy filled with '50s-style bubblegum music and lots of dancing (snappy choreography by Jimmy Shields).

By today's standards, it is a milquetoast musical. Birdie is more Ricky Nelson than Elvis, but Menzies does have some of Elvis's moves down pat, and he sings with a nice, mellow voice. A handsome young man with big wavy hair and decked out in a shiny suit, Menzies certainly looks the part of a '50s teen heartthrob, and he is delightfully expressive in a self-deprecating parody of teen idol arrogance.

Jérard as the harried agent is able to change expressions and persona at the drop of a hat. Centerstage patrons will remember him from his outstanding performance as Prince Caspian in the panto Rapunzel.

I very much like the ethnic diversity of the cast, which looks like America -- not so much a melting pot as a stew of many flavors. I wish more theaters would work toward such diverse casting. I also like that for this production Centerstage uses a large youth ensemble and teenage interns on stage and backstage who were mentored by theatrical professionals in every step of the production, thus providing the company with the largest and most youthfully energetic cast ever to appear in a Centerstage show.

Standout performances are turned in by Lara McLeod as Albert's secretary and girlfriend, Jasmyne Mendoza as Conrad Birdie fan club president Kim MacAfree, and Sam Barker in an over-the-top performance as Kim's father.

Lighting by John Chenault, resident lighting designer at Tacoma Music Playhouse, highlights the musical performances beautifully and helps create seamless set changes.

For a fun evening of youthful joy, I recommend Bye Bye Birdie.

BYE BYE BIRDIE, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through June 16, Centerstage at Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way, $29 adults, $25, Seniors, Military: $15; Youth (18-23): $12 17 and younger (plus five percent City of Federal Way admission tax), 253.661.1444,

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