Fall is officially here and summer is officially behind us. One of the best parts of July for me is the Signal Mountain Playhouse’s summer play. I hope you didn’t miss it. “Bye Bye Birdie” was an absolute delight in every way, starting with the venue. The Signal Mountain Playhouse stage is nestled in the woods near the town hall, and every summer folks make their way down a wide path under a canopy of trees to place their chairs and save their spots.
The plays are performed twice a year, one play in summer and another in winter, and these plays are not what you might expect from a collection of volunteer actors who do not consider themselves to be professional. I would differ. These productions are consistently of Broadway caliber, but instead of honking horns and big city noise of traffic, you hear the crickets in the forest and see the twinkling of fireflies as the stars come out overhead.
For nearly five decades, the Signal Mountain Playhouse has been attracting children to participate in plays since 1972, and youth of all ages have performed in them. Most hailing from Signal, parents have gladly transported their enthusiastic offspring up this mountain from all over the city, including East Brainerd, Hixson and Lookout Mountain. To witness the pride and accomplishment on those youthful faces after stellar, and sometimes life changing, performances is well worth it.
The 2021 play, “Bye Bye Birdie.” is about a heartthrob enlisting in the Army, and Noah Huseman nailed Elvis down to the pelvic thrusts and deep nasal musical notes and constant curled upper lip that just drove the teenaged girls to distraction. Portraying Conrad Birdie on stage, Noah also served as musical director, and the song and dance numbers were amazing!
Nicholas Hartline conducted the all-volunteer orchestra, and the melody of saxophones, drums, guitar, cello, violins, bass, trumpets and clarinets wafted out over the evening sky. Nicholas also conducted the orchestra for “Shrek,” “Willie Wonka” and “Annie,” in previous SMPH summer plays.
Choreographed by Lindsay Fussell, the dance numbers were incredible! I’m not sure what would define regular song and dance, but this wasn’t it. Noah performed “You Gotta Be Sincere” in the most perfect insincere manner, growling, “Suffer” and “Hug me” as he gyrated about the stage and adorable teenaged girls shrieked in unison at the top of their lungs and fell flat out.
In “One Hundred Ways,” Shandra Burnette imagines 100 ways to kill her boss/boyfriend when he “done her wrong” one time too many, and the mob scene was my favorite of all the scenarios of this macabre and hilarious number, with Eli Binder playing the part of mob boss perfectly. Afterwards, I had to clutch my sides during “The Shriner Ballet” number as I belly laughed at the unexpected and hilarious performance. Incredible!
And Shandra was in fine form as Rose Alverez, the proficient secretary/girlfriend of her boss and Conrad’s manager. Surely her performance with the Shriners is somewhere on YouTube. Her not-ready-to-commit beau and boss, Albert Peterson, was played by Roger Cass, who is chief architect at Unum by day and navigating the stage at night – at least during the month of July.
Dennis Parker played the father of the girl chosen to receive Conrad’s last kiss before being shipped overseas. Livid for all sorts of reasons, including the fact that Conrad seemed to take up residence in his home and his wife swooned over the heartthrob, as well, he changed his tune when he heard his family was going to be on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Again, the transition of the frustrated, about-to-snap father to an obsequious Ed Sullivan groupie has got to be on YouTube, as does Dani Sibold Clark in her role of Albert Peterson’s mother. Really, her transition from a frumpy long-suffering clinging mother to a thwarted seductress in knee-highs is beyond hilarious.
Director Allan Ledford claims this was his swan song, and if so, he certainly poured himself into it. The timing of every word, every nuance, every snarl, every expression, and really every single thing was perfect. Packed with quick, clever dialogue and stop-it-right-now-or-I’ll-wet-my-pants humor, this play flew by.
All I can say is, don’t miss the next one.
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Ferris Robinson is the author of three children’s books, “The Queen Who Banished Bugs,” “The Queen Who Accidentally Banished Birds,” and “Call Me Arthropod” in her pollinator series. “Making Arrangements” is her first novel. “Dogs and Love - Stories of Fidelity” is a collection of true tales about man’s best friend. Her website is ferrisrobinson.com and you can download a free pollinator poster there. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror.