BYE BYE BIRDIE

By Michael Stewart, Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (Stages St. Louis)

Indeed, all the ensemble work is particularly smart and cohesive. The first-act closer, a production number set in the Sweet Apple movie theater, where Conrad finally gets to sing (well, part of) "One Last Kiss" on the Ed Sullivan Show, brings the entire town together, and the ensuing riot of singers and citizens — Kim, radiantly goofy in a prom dress; and Conrad, gleaming in silver rock-dude apparel — is lively and delightful, yet designed to set up the conflicts that animate Act 2.

But what of Birdie, the slangy hipster at the center? Randall Patterson has the poses and the moue, but he may have been given an impossible task, as well as the most challenging songs. For here is a pop star whose theme song is "Honestly Sincere" and whose every finger-snap has females collapsing like dominoes in Dior's New Look. Author Stewart seems to have regarded the character of Birdie as almost an afterthought — certainly the least fleshed-out character. Patterson is comfortable as the preening pop godling, but it's in his very brief speaking scenes with James Anthony as Mr. MacAfee and Albert that the actor comes most to life.

Because this is musical comedy — the enchanted village — when Hurricane Birdie blows out of town, of course, the lovers are reunited, but instead of destruction, the status quo of 1960s suburbia is perfectly and satisfyingly re-established. And although the audience at Stages St. Louis may not faint and swoon like the teenage fan club on the platform when Conrad ships out, they'll leave fully satisfied.

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