With a waggle of his hips, Conrad Birdie can make girls sing, teens scream and grown women grow weak at the knees.
He’s a rock ’n’ roll heartthrob with a penchant for pompadours and leopard print. And he’s coming to small-town Sweet Apple, Ohio, to bestow “One Last Kiss” to one very lucky girl.
San Luis Obispo Little Theatre offers an affectionate send-up of rock music circa 1960 in its cute, candy-colored production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” the Tony Award-winning musical by lyricist Lee Adams and composer Charles Strouse. Although fans of the 1963 film adaptation starring Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh will notice some differences between the screen and stage versions, both share the same cheery spirit.
As “Bye Bye Birdie” opens, agent and songwriter Albert Peterson (Cameron Parker, doing his best Van Dyke impression) is in a bind.
Conrad (Tony Costa), his top client, has been drafted into the U.S. Army. And his secretary-cum-sweetheart, Rose “Rosie” Alvarez (Veronica Surber), is threatening to quit.
Rosie wants Albert to dissolve the family business he runs with his overbearing mother, Mae (Jill Turnbow), in order to go back to school and become an English teacher. (She also wouldn’t mind becoming his bride.)
Albert reluctantly agrees to the plan, and Rosie comes up with a last-minute publicity stunt. Before Conrad heads overseas, he’ll record a new song penned by Albert and perform it live on “The Ed Sullivan Show” for one fortunate fan.
That girl is 15-year-old Kim MacAfee (Cassidy Cagney), president and treasurer of Sweet Apple’s Conrad Birdie fan club.
Kim has just announced she’s going steady with Hugo Peabody (Elliot Peters) — a decision that, in her mind, signifies she’s on the cusp of womanhood.
Kim may have outgrown such childish pursuits as screaming every time Conrad appears on television, as she tells her understandably shocked best friend, Ursula (Micaela Morgan), but she can’t help but cry with happiness when she discovers that Conrad is coming to Sweet Apple to kiss her.
When Conrad arrives in town, accompanied by Albert and Rosie, it’s clear why Kim’s so excited.
Conrad’s performance of “Honestly Sincere,” complete with gyrating pelvis, sends every female within earshot into paroxysms of delight. Even the Mayor’s Wife (Ronda Beaman) collapses in a heap at the sight of the teen idol’s seductive sneer — much to the chagrin of the Mayor (Jamie Foster).
Not everyone is thrilled about Conrad’s arrival.
Hugo hates the idea of his best gal kissing a cocky rock star. (Kim assures her boyfriend that she’s a “One Boy” kind of girl.) And Kim’s dad (Ed Cardoza), an endearing stuffed shirt, hates the idea that he has to share his home with a guy who calls him “Fats,” racks up his phone bill and invites the attention of “shrieking harpies” who sing “We Love You, Conrad!” at the top of their lungs.
Still, Mr. MacAfee and his wife (Valerie Pallai) are consoled by the idea that they and their children, including son Randolph (Phineas Peters, a treat), will appear on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” “We’ll be coast to coast with our favorite host,” they sing in the spectacularly silly “Hymn for a Sunday Evening.”
Unfortunately, Conrad’s performance of “One Last Kiss” doesn’t quite go as planned — and Albert has to scramble to set things right.
Parker puts in an enthusiastic performance as Albert, a goofy guy whose devotion to “that wonderful woman who bore me” threatens to get in the way of his romance with Rosie. (His energetic antics tested the limits of the microphones on opening night as he entreated some crestfallen teens to “Put on a Happy Face.”)
As for the women in Albert’s life, Turnbow is terrific as his guilt-tripping mama while Subar captures the right tone of resignation as his long-suffering girlfriend. (With her light alto and pleasant stage presence, she seems far better suited to play the woman who laments “What Did I Ever See in Him?” than the hot-tempered temptress we glimpse in “Spanish Rose.”) Meanwhile, MJ Johnson steals the few scenes she’s in as Gloria, the sexy tap-dancing secretary Mae recruits to seduce her son.
Costa, who starred as the title character in Cuesta College’s production of “Refried Elvis,” is well-suited to play Conrad. But the title of star performer belongs to petite, perky Cagney, who’s perfectly cast in the role that made Ann-Margret a star.
Cagney’s strong, sweet soprano shimmers in Kim’s signature song, “How Lovely to Be a Woman.” Only Phineas Peters’ pure, piercing voice can rival it for sheer vocal power.
The rest of the cast includes Bobby Kendrick as bartender Maude, Ted Nugent as teen Harvey and Sabrina Pratt as Ursula’s mother, Mrs. Merkle.
“Bye Bye Birdie” is directed by Heidi L. Nees with musical direction by Lacey McNamara and choreography by Christy McNeil Chand. The production also features costume design by Keith Wetzel, lighting and sound design by Kevin Harris and another versatile set from stage designer David Linfield.
Together, they create an endearing “Bye Bye Birdie” that you won’t want to bid farewell to.
‘Bye Bye Birdie’
7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; through July 2
San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, 888 Morro St., San Luis Obispo
$15 to $33
805-786-2440 or www.slolittletheatre.org