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The era depicted in Bye Bye Birdie must seem like ancient history to the kids in the cast of the production at the Palm Canyon Theatre. But for those of us who do remember those days, the show ironically recalls—and satirizes—that amazing time.

Thanks to J.W. Layne’s versatile set, the décor hurls us back in time to the iconic designs of 1958. Throughout this musical—which hit Broadway in 1960, followed by the big screen in 1963—we are treated to the outrageous colors, fashions and dance styles of the time. A big salute to Se Layne Tethal and her crew for the costumes, Mado Nunez for the hairstyles and wigs, Nick Edwards for props, Anthony Nannini for his choreography, Layne Tethal for the lighting, David McLaughlin for his musical direction, and all the crew members who pitched in. Of course, big kudos go to director Matthew Gose, who beautifully brought it all together. Whew!

Then there’s the cast: The actors range in age from single digits to seniors. The story is about an Elvis-like Conrad Birdie (apparently derived from singer Conway Twitty’s name) getting his draft notice from the Army (which, of course, actually happened to Elvis, no doubt throwing his management into fits at the idea that he might be forgotten by teenagers, notorious for short attention spans). So his agent comes up with the idea of memorializing Conrad’s last kiss, of a small town girl, who will obviously never forget him—hopefully leading the way for his other followers.

Everything spreads out from that. We meet Birdie’s agent, Albert Peterson, played magnificently by Dane Whitlock, and his annoyed secretary, Rosie Alvarez, played by the fabulous Layne Tethal. Peterson’s mother, Mae Peterson, is played for laughs by a scary Amanda Burr.

We meet the girl who is selected to be the recipient of Conrad’s last kiss, Kim MacAfee, solidly played by young Sasha Chasen. Her family: the nervous mother played by Colleen Walker, and the chauvinistic blustering father, played by Tom Warrick.

And her friends! Brace yourself: The screaming kids open the show, pounding down the stairs right through the audience. The tireless teens sing and dance and emote throughout, just like teenagers did then, and do today. Kim’s boyfriend, Hugo Peabody, is moodily played by Max Mule. The town’s mayor, with Charles Gaines in the role, and Shirley LeMaster as his wife, lead the ensemble.

Of course, there’s Conrad Birdie himself. It would be interesting to know how Nicholas Sloan learned the moves of Elvis. He’s impossibly slim, with a pouty arrogance so like that of The King when he started out; Sloan catches all of the qualities that made kids go wild with excitement—and parents wild with horror—when Elvis burst onto the scene (and changed the music business overnight). Dressed in boots and over-the-top costumes, he’s perfectly cast.

The show, of course, is filled with ebullient song-and-dance numbers. From the wild writhing of the teenagers, to the breath-taking grace of Layne Tethal and Whitlock, the variety is delightful. This show gave us some unforgettable songs: “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” and “Put on a Happy Face” were recorded by nearly everybody in the business, and have become classics. “Kids,” performed here by Walker and Warrick, enchanted everyone. “A Mother Doesn’t Matter,” done by the martyred harridan Mae, played by Burr, elicited appreciative laughs from the men as well as the ladies in the audience.

The sound, despite a couple of tiny glitches—the cast has to be careful with hugs while wearing face and Lavalier microphones—was as good as we’ve heard at the Palm Canyon Theatre. That said, there’s a lot of screeching that, amplified, made some heads ring. Basically, everyone yells. The singers are pitched at the top of their range, a technique used to create excitement, but that doesn’t always work with every voice; even sopranos have their limits. The hard-edged sound so often required in musical comedy can sometimes wear on listeners.

Not surprisingly, the show is dominated by the old pros, who display lovely energy and secure stage presences when compared to the frenetic youth. The writing throughout is bright, and the conflicts move along rapidly. A special “Ole!” to Se Layne Tethal for her “Spanish Rose” number, which managed to be sexy and clever at the same time.

Bye Bye Birdie’s short two-week run concludes this coming weekend. Of course, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the film version—as if you needed a reason to see it.

Bye Bye Birdie is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 23; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 24 and 25; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 26, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $32, and the show runs about two hours with one intermission. For tickets or more info, call 760-323-5123, or visit www.palmcanyontheatre.org. Also: The theater is offering a Summer Kids Camp from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, from June 17 through July 27 ($125 per week); visit the site for more details.

Published in Theater and Dance

Ah, spring in the Coachella Valley. Some days feature the Best. Weather. Ever. Other days make it clear that the furnace we call “summer” is going to be here all too soon.

Whether the weather’s amazing or appalling, there’s no sense in sitting around at home; spring in the Coachella Valley is simply packed with great things to do—no matter your interest, your budget, or what part of the valley you live in.

We here at the Independent have scoured the various press releases and arts websites, and we came up with this selection of eight spring highlights. (OK, the last one occurs when it’s actually summer. But it’s the freaking Village People, people.)

Oh, and before we begin: If you’re part of an arts organization, gallery or special event, make sure to send all of your info to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., so we can keep our readers (who, like you, are all stunningly smart and gorgeous) in the know.

Thanks! And enjoy!

 

What: Roger Ballen Photography

When: Through Sunday, July 28

Where: New Media Gallery at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Drive, Palm Springs:

How much: $12.50; $10.50 seniors; $5 students; free to members, kids 12 and younger, and active duty military and families; free to all every Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m., and the second Sunday of each month

Contact info: 322-4800; www.psmuseum.org

Why: When it’s hot out, the museum offers an awesome respite.

At some point this spring, it’s going to get hot—so hot that, as Dave Barry once wrote, “nuns are cursing openly on the street.”

And at some point when it’s nun-cursingly hot, you’re going to want to get out and do something, despite the outdoor oven. We recommend the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Among the exhibits the museum has on display this spring is Roger Ballen Photography. Ballen is a New York native who moved to South Africa to work in geology after earning his doctorate in mineral economics. “Fascinated by the uncertain and precarious conditions he found, he began photographing people in small towns at the margins of society. Ballen documented these residents through a series of unsettling portraits that reveal the human condition even as his subjects exhibit idiosyncratic manners and habits,” says a write-up on the museum website.

He’s since shifted away from documentary photography, and today, his photos increasingly “exploit the shallow space between a constructed backdrop and the camera in a way that is immediate and confrontational. However, the overall effect is less aggressive than intimate and challenging,” continues the website.

If you understand all of that art-speak, get thee to the Palm Springs Art Museum. If you don’t understand it, let me translate: His photos look as cool as the air conditioning inside of the museum. So, go.

 

What: The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

When: 8 p.m., Thursday, April 11

Where: McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert

How much: $49 to $99

Contact info: 340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com

Why: Modern dance doesn’t get any better.

In 2011, Robert Battle became only the third artistic director in the 55-year history of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. When he started making his own mark on the lauded modern-dance company—it started as an all-African American modern-dance company in 1958, and went on to become a model organization, both in terms of creative influence and management—some critics were less than pleased.

“Battle faced the tough New York critics when he presented his first Big Apple season as artistic director (in the winter of 2011),” wrote Margaret Regan of the Tucson Weekly (who happens to be one of this country’s foremost arts writers). “Several writers seemed wary of the Ailey troupe’s accessibility and celebratory appeal. A review by The New York Times’ Alistair Macaulay was headlined ‘Trying Always to Please, Rarely to Challenge.’”

What was Battle’s response?

“I was too busy celebrating,” he told Regan. “There’s so much to celebrate. (That is) what is wonderful about the company and what we do. People leave the theater feeling uplifted. It’s an important aspect of what we do. There’s so much cynicism in the world. People can come here and feel connected.”

Now in his second season as artistic director, Battle continues to craft the company in his own way, while still honoring Ailey and Judith Jamison, Battle’s predecessor. The show at McCallum is slated to include works by young choreographer Kyle Abraham; Czech Jiří Kylián; Garth Fagan (the choreographer of The Lion King play) and others, in addition to Battle’s own works—and, of course, dances from Ailey himself, including “Revelations” in its entirety.

Alvin Ailey Dance is just one small part of a packed schedule at the McCallum through May 10, when comedian/flight purser/complete lunatic Pam Ann (aka Caroline Reid) will close out the 2012-2013 season. Check the website for a complete schedule.

 

What: Tru, the final play in the 2012-2013 season for Coyote StageWorks

When: Friday, April 19, through Sunday, April 28

Where: The Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $39 to $55

Contact info: 325-4490 (box office); www.coyotestageworks.org

Why: Because a theater company named after margarita-drinking episodes is putting on a Truman Capote play, and that is all-around awesome.

OK, we’re being a bit smart-assed in our description of why this play is worth your attention, although the company is indeed named after El Coyote, the Los Angeles Mexican restaurant where founding artistic director Chuck Yates and his friends—many of whom are involved with Coyote StageWorks—would mark important moments in their lives “by raising a margarita together,” according to the theater-company website.

Nonetheless, this play—starring Yates as a lonely Capote looking back on his life—is rarely performed (the Coyote StageWorks folks say they’re one of the “few” companies granted the rights to perform it), and it’s adapted from the works of Capote, so you know it will be entertaining.

Throw in the play’s Tony Award-winning pedigree, and the fine reputation Coyote StageWorks has, and this sounds like a winner. Check out the website for more details.

 

What: Gabriel Iglesias

When: 8 p.m., Saturday, May 4; 6 p.m., Sunday, May 5

Where: Agua Caliente, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage

How much: $45 to $75

Contact info: (866) 923-7244; www.hotwatercasino.com

Why: Because fluffy is funny.

In 2006, Gabriel Iglesias appeared on the NBC TV show Last Comic Standing, in which comics compete in a competition to become … well, y’know, the last comic standing.

Iglesias was doing well on the show—which offered him his first real widespread exposure—and was among the final eight contestant-comedians. Then he was caught using a Blackberry to communicate with the outside world. This was a no-no, and Iglesias was thrown off the show.

Despite that bit of cheating and idiocy, Iglesias has had the last laugh: He’s gone on to not only have a bigger career than any of the other comedians on that season of Last Comic Standing; he’s arguably gone on to have a bigger career than any winner of Last Comic Standing.

Also, if you saw Magic Mike: Remember the DJ who got Adam (“The Kid”) in trouble by getting him to deal drugs? Yep, that was Iglesias.

Other performers at Agua Caliente this spring include Melissa Etheridge, Penn and Teller, and even Tony Bennett. Check the website for a complete list.

 

What: Cyndi Lauper headlines the 20th Evening Under the Stars, a benefit for the AIDS Assistance Program

When: 6 p.m., Saturday, May 11

Where: O’Donnell Golf Club, 301 N. Belardo Road, Palm Springs

How much: $395 and up

Contact info: 325-8481; www.aidsassistance.org

Why: It’s a great cause, and Lauper is a class act

Despite all sorts of wonderful medical advances, HIV and AIDS are still around, and they’re still wreaking havoc on people’s lives.

That’s where the AIDS Assistance Program comes in. The program helps low-income folks with HIV/AIDS by distributing $100 in food vouchers to them every month, and by offering counseling and training seminars to help those folks get back on their professional and social feet. According to the AIDS Assistance Program website, some $7 million in direct service has been extended to some 1,500 clients since the program began in 1991—and the AAP receives no state or federal funding.

Therefore, the AAP needs to raise money—and a lot of it, and one way in which the AAP does that is through the annual Evening Under the Stars gala. The event includes cocktails, dinner and dancing, as well as a ceremony honoring three people who have gone above and beyond to help AAP and its clients.

Of course, this year’s event also includes a performance by Cyndi Lauper, who is as busy as ever. Did you know that in 2010, the renowned singer, actress and gay-rights activist released an album called Memphis Blues, which became the year’s top blues album? And that she’s written a musical with Harvey Fierstein, called Kinky Boots, that’s opening on Broadway this April?

Tickets for the gala start at $395 (although $270 of that is tax-deductible). It’s a lot of money, sure, but AAP is an amazing cause—and that money will get you an amazing evening under the stars, too.

 

What: Bye Bye Birdie

When: Friday, May 17, through Sunday, May 26

Where: Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $32

Contact info: 323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org

Why: Because OMG IT’S HEARTTHROB CONRAD BIRDIE!!!

Can we get a round of applause for the folks at the Palm Canyon Theatre? Whereas most local theater companies go on hiatus when temperatures hit triple-digits and the snowbirds exit stage left, these people stick around and provide quality theater almost year-round.

In May, Palm Canyon Theatre will be the home of the classic Bye Bye Birdie. In this musical, set in 1958, heartthrob rock ’n’ roller Conrad Birdie is drafted into the Army—but before he departs, he heads to little Sweet Apple, Ohio, to sing to one lucky member of his fan club. Birdie creates quite a stir among the small town and the family of the chosen fan, Kim MacAfee—and the hijinks (and songs) ensue.

Also on the rather-diverse boards for the Palm Canyon Theatre are The Vagina Monologues (April 5-7), Hair (April 19-28), and Pippin (July 12-21).

 

What: Scotty McCreery in concert

When: 8 p.m., Saturday, June 1

Where: Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella

How much: $45-$65

Contact info: (866) 377-6829; www.spotlight29.com

Why: Because OMG IT’S HEARTTHROB SCOTTY MCCREERY!!!

Scotty McCreery was just a wee lad of 17 in 2011, when he cruised to victory on the 10th season of American Idol.

What has he done since then, you ask? Well, he promptly released his debut album, Clear as Day, which went to No. 1 and achieved platinum status; and he followed that up with a Christmas album, Christmas With Scotty McCreery, that went to No. 2 on the country charts and reached gold status, even though it was a freakin’ Christmas album.

He’s now at work on a new album, taking college classes, and sniveling to the media about how tough it is to date while on tour. And he’s only 19. OK, everyone, say it along with me: Awww, poor thing!

So, yeah, it’s OK to hate McCreery a little. But there’s no denying his talent; with that deep voice of his and his good looks (didja know he’s part Puerto Rican?), he’s a contender to become the most successful Idol alum of all time.

He’ll kick off the month of June at Spotlight 29’s Spotlight Showroom. Other bookings this season include the Spring Love Tour on Saturday, April 6 (highlight: Exposé singing “Point of No Return”!), comedian Brian Regan on Friday, April 12, and Mexican comedian Jo Jo Jorge Falcon on Saturday, May 4. Check out the website for a full schedule.

 

What: The Village People, in concert with KC and the Sunshine Band

When: 8 p.m., Saturday, July 6

Where: Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio

How much: $39 to $69

Contact info: 342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com

Why: Because you can stay there, and I’m sure you will find many ways to have a good time …

True story: When I was little, my mother—a conservative housewife who lived on a cattle ranch just outside of Reno, NV—would occasionally clean house to a Village People 8-track. She loved this 8-track, and would turn it up to a volume usually reserved for Boeing 747 engines.

In other words, as a child, I was routinely subjected to disturbingly loud renditions of lyrics like: “It’s fun to stay at the YMCA! They have everything for young men to enjoy! You can hang out with all the boys!”

It’s no wonder I turned out gay.

Anyhow, the Village People and another ’70s mainstay, KC and the Sunshine Band, will be rocking the Fantasy Springs Special Events Center on July 6. (Fun fact: That same day, KC and the Sunshine Band’s Wayne Casey will get his own star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.)

In other words: Start working on your YMCA dance now!

Visit the Fantasy Springs website for a list of other upcoming shows; there’s some good stuff coming up, ranging from John Legend (Saturday, April 6) to Pepe Aguilar (Saturday, May 4) the Doobie Brothers (Saturday, June 15).

Published in Local Fun

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