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.
Through April 25 at NKU. Get showtimes, tickets, find nearby bars and restaurants and read Lauren Becker's full review here.