Bye Bye Birdie

OTTUMWA — To see Tyler Breeding or Eric Fredrickson perform, you’d normally have to board a Norwegian Cruise Line ship or head to Denmark. Friday, though, the performers will be on stage in Ottumwa.

Breeding will portray Conrad Birdie with Fredrickson as his manager Albert J. Peterson in American Gothic Performing Arts Festival’s “Bye, Bye Birdie” production.

Breeding, a Fairfield High School graduate, has returned to the area at the invitation of Dennis Willhoit and Kyle Roemerman, who help helm the annual festival. “It’s really fun coming back and having a reunion. I love these people and haven’t seen them in years,” he said.

Breeding’s job as a performer with the cruise line, which he’s been doing since 2017, has taken him around the world, including Japan, Europe and the Caribbean. Friday’s show, he said, fits perfectly between jobs.

Fredrickson, a Duluth, Minnesota native and current senior at Drake University, is also a professional performer. He’s performed regionally in Minnesota and Michigan and is an alumnus of the National Theater Institute in Connecticut, where he is also a resident artist working on an original album.

His journey to southeast Iowa was also at the invitation of Willhoit. Fredrickson said Willhoit reached out to him about playing Albert, and he’s been in town since May 28 preparing for the show.

“I like it. It’s definitely hot here. It’s a cute town with lots of personality,” he said. “The people have been very nice and welcoming.”

After Friday’s show wraps up, he will be heading overseas to perform in “Hamlet” in Denmark with the Oxford Shakespeare Company.

Joining the professional actors on stage is Kami Millikin of Ottumwa, who is portraying Rosie, Albert’s secretary and love interest, and high school students from Ottumwa High School and Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont High School round out the cast of about 30.

“It’s a chance where students in high school can see what it’s like to work with professionals,” said Millikan, who also serves on the AGPAF board. It’s enriching for the students, the locals and the community.

“The idea of AGPAF was to create positive and meaningful experiences for performing arts students in the summer,” Millikin said. “It’s cool how it’s developed over the years to this monthlong event.”

“Bye, Bye Birdie” has been in rehearsals since June 7, the cast members said, and focuses more on the story rather than dramatic scene changes that are often seen in musicals. Millikin said the production features vignettes of different scenes throughout the production that help move the story along.

“It’s really fast-paced,” Fredrickson said.

The production is also set apart by the placement of the live orchestra. Rather than being in the pit, Millikin said they will be on the stage; it features musicians from around southeast Iowa and northeast Missouri, Roemerman said.

The backdrops are also unique to the AGPAF production. Millikin said the elaborate works have been created for the show by local artist Leah Morrisey, including a large one of Breeding portraying Conrad Birdie.

The show itself is set in the late 1950s. Conrad Birdie has been drafted into the Army, and Albert has to find a way to pay back his debts to him. Rosie helps him by writing the song “One Last Kiss” to be performed by Conrad — and having him kiss a teenage fan on TV.

“Conrad Birdie is basically Elvis Presley,” Birding said.

The musical has elements of drama and comedy. “It’s the whole package,” Millikin said.

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's magazine editor, leading production of "Ottumwa Life," the award-winning "Business People" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.