At times, Reagle’s "Birdie" flys high

WALTHAM — The Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston is celebrating its 44th summer season, no mean feat as area theater companies sputter, cough and disappear.
Founder Robert Eagle’s formula has included shows that are proven winners, a familiar name or two to head the cast, and then filling in with a sprinkle of Equity actors butressed by up-and-coming talent from college theater programs and veteran amateur players.

      Ryan Overberg as Conrad Birdie with the female teen ensemble
in “Bye, Bye Birdie” from July 14-22 at Reagle Music Theatre,
617 Lexington Street, Waltham. (Photo by Herb Philpott)

   That has enabled Reagle to stage productions with 50 or more players at a time when Equity shows might be lucky to have 15-20 performers for the same show, with each actor playing multiple roles.
It also means that there can be performances that are uneven within the same production.
The Reagle is currently staging “Bye, Bye Birdie,”  a musical loosely based on the craziness that erupted over Elvis Presley going into the army back in 1958. Singing sensation Conrad Birdie (Ryan Overberg) has been drafted, and that, coupled with his onerous contract, may be enough to sink the music firm owned by Albert Peterson (Jacob Sherburne). But Peterson and his aide/long-suffering girlfriend, Rosie Alvarez (Carman Napier) concoct a scheme that will send Birdie off to the army with a huge splash of publicity, enough to save the day for Peterson.
Napier is a sassy, sexy Rosie, and has both the acting and vocal chops to handle the role. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have believable chemistry with Sherburne, who struggles to keep up with her.
Old pro Anita Gillette heads the cast, but in truth her Mae Peterson, the wise-cracking mother of Albert, is a supporting role. She has sharpened her comic timing over the years in some of TV’s finest sitcoms, and her exchanges with Napier and Sherburne are some of the best moments in the production. Director Larry Sousa smartly inserts a song written for the TV version of the show — “A Mother Doesn’t Matter Any More” — into this production.
Gillian Gordon is fine as the love-struck teen Kim MacAfee, and yes, Bard Walters is supposed to be a buffoonish caricature of a father as Harry MacAfee, but he should rein it in just a bit.
As Birdie, Overberg basically has to look good, preen and show off his pipes, and that he does to strong effect, especially in “One Last Kiss.”
Sousa, who doubles as choreographer, has gotten the most out of the well-staged production numbers, which are energetic and splashy.
Two talented musicians — music director Dan Rodriguez and conductor Jeffrey Leonard —  give the bouncy Charles Strouse-Lee Adams score its proper due in numbers such as “Put on a Happy Face” and “A Lot of Livin’ to Do.”
Sherburne never quites reaches the level of the other leads, but with  performances such as Napier’s and   Gillette’s and the production numbers, there’s plenty of value for the theatrical dollar here.

“Bye, Bye Birdie” runs through July 22 at the Robinson Theatre at Waltham High School. For ticket information, go to http://www.reaglemusictheatre.org/.

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