REVIEW: Meadow Brook Theatre’s ‘Birthday Club’ is Cause for Celebration!

Meadow Brook Theatre (MBT) kicks off the new year in a big way with the Michigan premiere of the jubilant Birthday Club, running now through Sunday, February 5, 2023, on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester, MI.

From the pen of playwright Phil Olson, Birthday Club is set in the present day and features Cheryl (Lynnae Lehfeldt), Emily (Debbie Williams), Abbie (Tamara PiLar), and Kathy (Dani Cochrane).

For five years these women have been gathering at Cheryl’s house to drink, commiserate about their lives, drink, encourage each other, drink, and celebrate their birthdays. The Birthday Club was started to support their friend Jennifer as she battled cancer. Even though Jennifer is no longer with them (well, she is in a way), these women carry on in her memory and the play opens with the interrogation, I mean the initiation of a potential new member, Sarah (Sara Kmiec).

L to R: Debbie Williams as Emily, Sara Kmiec as Sarah, Lynnae Lehfeldt as Cheryl, Tamara PiLar as Abbie, and Dani Cochrane as Kathy in ‘Birthday Club’ at MBT. Photo courtesy of Sean Carter Photography

This show is packed with amazing talent. The performance from each actress is so polished – so spot on in its execution, that I felt like I was watching a taping of a sitcom rather than a play.

Emily is a sexy divorcee, mom, and high school teacher with her sights set on opening a tutoring business. Plus, she’s the Club’s body enhancement expert. Emily is such a different role from Williams’ turn as ‘Mama’ in FANCY, a Country Jukebox Musical, I could hardly believe it was the same actress. Such a fun role. Brava!

Abbie is living the dream. At least that’s what her friends think. She’s a stay-at-home wife in a big house with a pool and a boat, and she absolutely LOVES her pocket doors. Even more than she loves her husband.

Abbie (Tamara PiLar) is living her best life in ‘Birthday Club.’

Cheryl is essentially the ‘mom’ of the Club. She is a successful business owner and an empty nester with her stay-at-home husband. Cheryl is also controlling and the very definition of a Type A personality (“Coasters!”). It is always a treat to watch Lehfeldt do her thing on stage. Whether she’s playing the frenzied Mrs. Peacock in Clue: On Stage, an eccentric medium in Blithe Spirit, or a brash American in Murder on the Orient Express, her performances are flawless. No matter the character, she makes you believe that the role was tailor-made for her.

Sarah (Sara Kmiec) is Cheryl’s work protégé who comes from a conservative background and practices a strict religion called ‘Heemish.’ She is very naïve about pretty much everything, which lends to many funny moments in the play. I first had the chance to review Kmiec when she starred in The IT Girl at MBT four years ago. Back then she was still a Wayne State University student, but based on that performance, I knew she’d be back on the MBT stage.

Kathy is married with four kids and is highly suspicious, hates sentiment, and has a blackbelt in sarcasm. Cochrane (Stick Fly) plays her with biting perfection. She’s the kind of friend you’re never quite sure what will fly out of her mouth. Usually something shocking and/or inappropriate. Kathy is a straight shooter, and you could tell Cochrane was having a blast with the material.  

Sarah arrives for her ‘interview’ with the Birthday Club members and after much scrutiny by Kathy, and Sarah’s agreement to abide by the Club’s eight rules (e.g., never eat the birthday cake and never ask how old anyone is), Sarah becomes an official Birthday Club member. And that’s when the fun begins.

During each scene change, various birthday-themed songs are played followed by the cast reentering doing some sort of dance. One-by-one they share about their personal, work, and family issues. Sarah says every time they meet that she’s leaving Birthday Club because she’s sure she’s going to hell or will be punished by her religion for being at Birthday Club, only to show up the next time. And every scene ends (except for one) with an exuberant, “Birthday Club!’ from all the ladies.

It is obvious that these women are having a ball on stage. Their comedic timing is impeccable, and they are making the most of every line they’re given. And let me tell you, there is a lot of memorable dialogue.

“Celebrate good times, come on! (Let’s celebrate)”

I’m sure that some would argue that these characters are one-dimensional and merely perpetuating harmful stereotypes that keep women from being taken seriously by society. But the thing is, we’ve all known women like this. This play may be called Birthday Club, but it’s also about the club of womanhood and how we align ourselves with others. Even when, on the outside, it looks like the pieces shouldn’t fit together. What the women in Birthday Club come to realize is that they work because of their differences. Each of them brings something unique to the club. No matter what stage of life you’re in, you will find something to relate to and see a bit of yourself (or someone you know) in these characters.

Birthday Club is more than a play, it’s a party and everyone is invited to join the fun. Because when the material is this hilarious and the cast this exceptional, I guarantee you will have a great time at Birthday Club. Cheers!

Birthday Club is directed by Travis W. Walter. Scenic design is by Brian Kessler, costume design by Marley Boone, lighting design by Phillip Hall, and sound design by Mike Duncan. Brittanie Nichole Sicker is the stage manager.

This performance runs approximately two hours with a 15-minute intermission.

MBT has rated this show for middle school age and up.  

Tickets range from $37 to $46 and are available by calling the Meadow Brook Theatre box office at 248-377-3300 or going online at Student discounts are available at the box office. Groups of eight or more should call 248-370-3316 for group pricing.

SPECIAL TICKET DISCOUNT: If your birthday falls between now and February 5, enjoy 1 free ticket to Birthday Club with valid proof of Birthday. All other members of your party are eligible for 20% off tickets. Call the box office at 248-377-3300 to redeem this special birthday discount. If you are a member of a birthday club, please call groups sales at 248-370-3316 for a special group discount. *Offer Not Valid on Previously Purchased Tickets*

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

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