Northern Kentucky University’s production of the musical Bye Bye Birdie is a surprisingly serious take on growing up and finding true love in various means. That’s not to say that this is a downer of a play — it elicits laughs from the get-go.
Bumbling mamma’s boy, Albert Peterson (Matt Bohnert), and his secretary Rose (Carmyn Howe) decide to use the fame of Rock & Roller Conrad Birdie (Bradford B. Frost) to their advantage. Birdie is set to leave for the Army, but before he goes he’s going to deliver just “One Last Kiss” to fan Kim Macafee (Lauren Otte).
Birdie gives most cast members a time to shine. Kim’s solo, “How Lovely to be a Woman,” has Otte switching out of her young girl look into jeans and a boy’s jersey on stage. In a matter of minutes, she has a coming-of-age moment after finding her first love, Hugo Peabody (Grayson Wittenbarger). Her friend Ursula Merkle (Hannah Gregory) adds humor as the quintessential Birdie fan and finds it unbelievable that Kim could see Hugo as a better choice.
Dance routines were fun and fresh, giving a youthful vibe to the show.
Gymnastics are an element of “Put on a Happy Face” in which Albert tries to make two Birdie fans realize his departure for the Army isn’t anything to frown about. With goofy faces and moves, the song leaves the crowd with a big smile. Birdie’s first solo, “Honestly Sincere,” with hip-swinging and a crooning voice, underscores his overlap with Elvis Presley.
The breakout star of the production is Bohnert as Albert, a delightful addition to every scene he's featured in. He evokes laughter whether he's chasing Birdie around Sweet Apple, Ohio, messing up his relationship with Rosie or bending under the pressure of Mama (played hilariously by Caity Shipp), who believes she knows best.
The transitions between scenes sustain the mood. Each crew member moves set elements dressed as a maintenance worker or maid. They keep up their characters the entire time, even at the very end, when Conrad tries to steal Rosie away from Albert after their bows.
The overall theme of Bye Bye Birdie illustrates the need to grow up at the right time — not too early like Kim and not too late like Albert. The amusing song “Kids” is sung for the second time by the entire cast at the end, stating the common wisdom that parental advice is never followed. It leaves the audience chuckling along to the message that everyone still has “a lot of livin’ yet to do.”
BYE BYE BIRDIE, presented by Northern Kentucky University, continues through April 25. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.