2-time Tony Award winner puts on a happy face in ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ at Kennedy Center

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Bye Bye Birdie' at Kennedy Center (Part 1)

He won a pair of Tony Awards for “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “Something Rotten!” among his five total nominations for Broadway’s “Legally Blonde,” “Falsettos” and “Some Like It Hot,” not to mention playing the hilarious Not Dead Fred in “Monty Python’s Spamalot” and Willy Wonka in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Now, actor Christian Borle stars in “Bye Bye Birdie” at the Kennedy Center from June 7 to 15 as part of its Broadway Center Stage series. This is no national tour, folks; it’s a one-off production only playing here in D.C.

“We throw these things up in like 10 days, so we’ve all been working very, very hard on it,” Borle told WTOP. “(‘Bye Bye Birdie’) captured a moment in musical theater history where rock ‘n roll was starting to be introduced into the genre. They posited what would happen if you told the story of Elvis going into the Army and how that would make the entire teenage generation panic — and how that would make his manager, played by me, panic even more.”

Based on the 1960 Broadway musical and 1963 film, the story follows an Elvis-style rock ‘n roll singer named Conrad Birdie, who visits a small Ohio town to make his “farewell” TV performance before he is drafted.

“(My character Albert Peterson) is torn between his duty to Conrad Bertie and the love of his life, Rose Alvarez … who is hoping to get him away from the music-managing business to settle down and be a humble English teacher,” Borle explained. “They concoct a plan, right before Conrad goes into the Army, they pick a random member of his fan club, Kim MacAfee … and on live television, they’re gonna bestow his biggest fan with one last kiss.”

While Borle plays the Dick Van Dyke role of Albert Peterson, Krysta Rodriguez plays the Janet Leigh role of Rose Alvarez and Ashlyn Maddox plays the Ann-Margaret role of Kim MacAfee. Rounding out the cast are Tony nominee Ephraim Sykes as Conrad Birdie, SAG Award winner Caroline Aaron as Mae Peterson, Tony nominee Richard Kind as Harry MacAfee and Tony nominee Jennifer Laura Thompson as Doris MacAfee.

“Dick Van Dyke, those are big shoes to fill,” Borle said. “This is the second Dick Van Dyke character I have stepped into, I played Bert in ‘Mary Poppins’ as well, and I won’t be doing it justice, but I will do my best. … Our Rose is played by the amazing Krysta Rodriguez, with whom I did a season of that TV show ‘Smash,’ so we’re crossing paths again. … A lovely young actress named Ashlyn is just killing it, she’s got a voice as pure as driven snow.”

Together, they’ll sing all of your favorite songs by Charles Strouse (music) and Lee Adams (lyrics).

“There’s songs that everybody recognizes,” Borle said. “There’s ‘We Love You Conrad,’ which is an earworm you’ll be singing leaving the theater and the next two weeks, so apologies in advance. There’s the fabulous ‘Put on a Happy Face.’ … The song ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ that was in the movie was not originally in the show. It was written for the movie, but it may or may not be making an appearance during the bows of our show. It’s so darn catchy.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Bye Bye Birdie' at Kennedy Center (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on the podcast below:

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2024 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up