With very few exceptions, our experiences at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre over many years have been very positive. Tonight, unfortunately, was one of those exceptions.
At first we thought our luke-warm reactions were due to our recollections of the 1963 movie starring Dick Van Dyke, Ann-Margret, Janet Leigh, Maureen Stapleton, Paul Lynde, Bobby Rydell, and Jesse Pearson as Conrad Birdie. Who could possibly compete with those indelible performances?
By the conclusion, we knew this was not the case. This entire production lacked life. Dancing was weak, unimaginative, and repetitive, and we’re not sure if it was the limited capacity of the actors with the choreographer doing his best with the talent he had or if it was the choreography. We’re going with the former.
Check out the Shriner’s Ballet on YouTube with Chita Rivera, who made the role famous on Broadway. Shriner's Ballet - Chita Rivera, choreographer Gower Campion
Singing was consistently pitchy in all of the solos. But a few numbers stood out and they were all group efforts. “One Boy” was exquisitely harmonized by three women, and the “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” was equally impressive. “Kids” was ably performed by a parent ensemble. Obviously, these are voices that sing well together but shouldn’t be asked to stand alone.
The play/movie parodied Elvis and the time he was drafted into the army. Jesse Pearson played this role to the hilt in the movie. Along with the other leading roles tonight, this one did not fit the bill.
Darla Wortley as Mrs. Peterson was a stand-out and had all the funniest lines, and the younger ensemble performers were energetic and entertaining. Otherwise, we would highly recommend you see the movie instead of this production.