Summer Lyric Lets the Good Times Roll

Wednesday July 05, 06
by Nick Marinello ,

Summer Lyric Lets the Good Times Roll
Nick Marinello


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Photo of Helen Blank, Francine Seagal and Kristopher Lloyd Shaw
Rehearsing for their production of "Bye, Bye Birdie" are (top photo, from left) Helen Blanke, Francine Seagal and Kristopher Lloyd Shaw, while (below) Elizabeth Argus practices a dance move with Ed Kresley, director and choreographer.
Photo of Elizabeth Argus and Ed Kresley
Gray skies are gonna clear up/ Put on a happy face.

So begins one of the many memorable tunes in "Bye, Bye Birdie," the rollicking, buoyant musical that is the centerpiece offering of this year's Summer Lyric Theatre at Tulane.

"This is not standard fare for us," says B. Michael Howard, professor of music and artistic director for the Summer Lyric Theatre. "It's a little lighter than what we normally do. I thought that after Katrina we needed to offer things uplifting and fun, as well as university- and community-based."

"Bye, Bye Birdie," which opens a four-day run on Thursday (July 6), tells the story of an Elvis Presley-like rock-and-roll singer who engages in a publicity stunt to receive "one last kiss" on national television from a female fan before being inducted into the Army. The musical pokes gentle fun at the pop culture of its day (it opened on Broadway in 1960), and Howard says it's the kind of production that does not need updating.

"It reads like a history book," says Howard. "Everyone will recognize Elvis going into the army. It's nostalgic and really fun."

It's also a big production with more than 40 professional and student actors and a 23-piece orchestra comprising musicians drawn largely from the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

"The talent in this city is marvelous," says Ed Kresley, the show's director and choreographer. Kresley, who teaches musical theater at New York University and Marymount University, has come to New Orleans for the last five years to work with Summer Lyric. "There is so much talent here. This is the highest-quality regional theater that I have worked with."

Kresley, who actually appeared as teenager Henry in the original Broadway production of "Birdie," has directed the musical several times, including a touring production that starred Tommy Tune. Still, it's been a challenge putting the show together with the limited time constraints of this season. "We've had two weeks to get this up," says Kresley. "But you always want more time."

"We started planning the season very late because of the storm," says Howard. "A number of our staff didn't come back after Katrina, and so we first had to fill those positions."

But Howard adds he's not making excuses. "I'm very proud of what we've done this season," he says.

In fact, the "Show Boat Experience," a concert version of the classic musical that opened the Summer Lyric's season, exceeded all expectations, says Howard. "The turnout for the show was fabulous, and we've had very busy ticket sales for 'Birdie.' "

Summer Lyric's season concludes with "Pippin," which runs July 27-30. The box office is open Monday-Friday, noon-5 p.m. Call 504-865-5269 for tickets or more information.