Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Broadway Center Stage: Bye Bye Birdie
Kennedy Center Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Rose: You Are Who You Eat, The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, Topdog/Underdog, and Long Way Down

The Cast
Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman
A solid production of a classic Broadway musical is always worth seeing, and that's especially true of the Broadway Center Stage production of Bye Bye Birdie in the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater in Washington through June 15. The large and generously talented cast, the 22-piece orchestra at the rear of the stage, the fluid staging by director Marc Bruni, and the enthusiastic choreography by Denis Jones all combine to create a fun and fast-moving performance.

When Bye Bye Birdie opened on Broadway in 1960, composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Lee Adams broke new ground by integrating rock 'n' roll elements in some of their songs. (Incidentally, both men are still alive: Strouse is 96 and Adams is 99.)

Michael Stewart's book is a bit of fluff about music producer Albert Peterson (Christian Borle), his employee and longtime fiancée Rose Alvarez (Krysta Rodriguez), and what will happen when their only client, teen idol Conrad Birdie (Ephraim Sykes), is drafted into the U.S. Army. Rose engineers a publicity stunt to bring Birdie to a small Ohio town where he will give a heavily hyped goodbye kiss to one of his worshippers, Kim MacAfee (Ashlyn Maddox).

Because attitudes have shifted over the decades, the residents of Sweet Apple are now portrayed as racially and ethnically diverse, including Birdie played by Sykes, a powerhouse performer who made his Broadway breakthrough in Ain't Too Proud: The Lives and Times of the Temptations. As staged by Bruni and Jones, he brings both R&B and rock 'n' roll chops to his performance, enhanced by his Little Richard hairstyle and sequined purple jacket (period costumes designed by Linda Cho).

Borle is a perfect fit in the role originated by Dick Van Dyke: the aw-shucks mannerisms, the determination powered in part by desperation, and the way he turns into jelly in front of his formidable mother (Caroline Aaron, hilarious). Rodriguez gives a self-possessed performance as Rose, a woman who knows what she wants and keeps fighting when she doesn't get it. Maddox plays Kim as amusingly sure of her maturity throughout most of the show, while Richard Kind is lovably outrageous as her beleaguered father.

Lee Savage has created a minimalist scenic design that relies heavily on projections (designed by Nathan Scheuer) to depict locations and create moods (for example, a wall of black-and-white television sets). Lighting designer Cory Pattak uses illuminated blocks in shifting colors to suggest the mid-century setting.

The Kennedy Center has dedicated the production to the memory of Chita Rivera, who originated the role of Rose Alvarez on Broadway and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2002.

The Broadway Center Stage production of Bye Bye Birdie runs through June 15, 2024, at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600 or visit

Directed by Marc Bruni
Book by Michael Stewart
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Lee Adams
Choreographed by Denis Jones
Music director: John Bell

Albert Peterson: Christian Borle
Rose Alvarez: Krysta Rodriguez

Sweet Apple Teens:
Helen: Sarah Chiu
Nancy: Dori Waymer
Margie: Kelly LoMonte
Freddie: Jalen Michael Jones
Karl: Luke Kolbe Mannikus
Penelope: Maria Cristina Posada Slye
Harvey: Victor de Paula Rocha
Charlie: Renell Taylor
Mike: Evan Kinnane
Ursula Merkle: Jackera Davis
Hugo Peabody: Miguel Gil
Kim MacAfee: Ashlyn Maddox
Mrs. Doris MacAfee: Jennifer Laura Thompson
Mr. Harry MacAfee: Richard Kind
Conrad Birdie: Ephraim Sykes

Sweet Apple Adults:
Mayor: Kevin Ligon
Mayor's Wife: Allison Blackwell
Mrs. Merkle: Linda Mugleston
Mr. Merkle: Kevin McAllister
Mrs. Johnson: Megan Sikora
Randolph MacAfee: Henry Kirk
Gloria Rasputin: Megan Sikora
Charles F. Maude: Kevin McAllister

Ensemble: Allison Blackwell, Sarah Chiu, Victor de Paula Rocha, Jalen Michael Jones, Evan Kinnane, Kevin Ligon, Kelly LoMonte, Kevin McAllister, Luke Kolbe Mannikus, Linda Mugleston, Megan Sikora, Maria Cristina Posada Slye, Renell Taylor, Dori Waymer