Bringing back a classic with Bye Bye Birdie

Set in the 1960s and based off of Elvis Presley’s life, the Upper School’s production of Bye Bye Birdie has a lot in store. Conrad Birdie, a teen pop star, gets drafted into the army to fight in the Vietnam War. In turn, this upsets girls all the way from New York to Sweet Apple, Ohio. To try and make it up to his fans, Conrad’s manager, Albert, and Albert’s girlfriend, Rosie, choose one girl from Sweet Apple, Ohio to be Conrad’s ‘one last kiss’ before he goes to war. Things end up going awry and the funny aspect of the musical is one of the main reasons the theater department chose to perform it this fall on September 28, 29, 30, and October 1. They also chose Bye Bye Birdie to bring some variety into the performances.

“We have done a lot of contemporary musicals in the last several years and Bye Bye Birdie is a very traditional musical,” said director of theatre arts Kate Morgens. “Having that flavor and type of show in our repertoire of plays acts as a nice contrast.” Another reason Bye Bye Birdie was chosen is that it allows opportunities for study integration and learning. Dr. Craig Butler, father of a Westminster alumnus who studied with Morgens, talked to the cast about the Vietnam War and conscription. Butler attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York and made an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show with the West Point Chorale. The Ed Sullivan Show was a late night comedy show in the 1960s. In the musical, Conrad Birdie gets his ‘one last kiss’ while the show is running on live television. When the cast isn’t learning historical context for the show, they are jam packed with rehearsals.

“I would say, with this year especially, we have been on a really tight schedule because they moved our show up from when it used to be so we’ve been a little bit rushed,” said senior Allie Jeffay. “It would have been nicer if we had more rehearsal time before we had to put the show on. Then, we could really enjoy the rehearsal process rather than focusing on getting everything done in time.” Essentially, the cast is putting on a show in half of the time that they normally have to rehearse and prepare. Even with the shortened rehearsal time, the cast has still taken the opportunity to bond with each other.

“I really like this cast,” said Jeffay. “Everybody is so nice and excited to be there. There are a lot of people who are new to theater and new to musicals, so it’s always fun to work with them and see what they bring to the table.” Along with cast members who are new to theater, there are freshman who are new to Upper School theater in particular.

“Really, the entire process has been great,” said freshman Anna Davis. “The overall experience is very different than it was in middle school, which I really enjoy.” On the other hand, there are a few complications with the musical that the cast has to work around.

“Sometimes in our rehearsals we have been thinking a lot about the traditional writing of the show and sometimes some of the scenes aren’t the way we would write scenes today,” said Morgens. “To be honest, a couple of times, we have fudged and edited little bits of the scenes.” Furthermore, there have also been speculations about whether the musical is sexist or not. There are some songs that potentially imply that, but a website called “Ravishly” found by diversity education coordinator Judy Osborne, rated the musical an eight out of ten for being more tolerant. Rather than the traditional musical, where women have to rely on men to have a good time or even to get through life, in Bye Bye Birdie, the two female leads run off with the intention to have a good time by themselves. This gives off a more contemporary feel to the plot, despite the musical’s more traditional setting.

All of the hard work that the cast puts in during rehearsal leads up to one end goal: the performances. The product of the whole experience is a highlight for many and has multiple positive attributes that come along with it.

“My favorite part about [participating] in Bye Bye Birdie is the show,” said junior Ella Collier. “We haven’t gotten to that point, but the show is always stressful right before and then we end up pulling it together and the pay off of performing for everybody and the three shows is just super fun and worth all of the work.” The show may be the end result of all of the rehearsals and practice that the cast put into it, but it is not the only end result that comes out of the process. It shows all of the relationships that have been built since castings as well.

“It’s not actually in the script, but my favorite part of doing shows in general is team building,” said Morgens. “And the fact that these students all get together to tackle something that may or may not be easy. In this case, it’s not easy. It’s really fast. We’re putting on a show faster than we have done before. I think everyone pulling together for one common goal is something that is really fun for me.”

On Sept. 28 at 4:00 p.m. in Kellett Theatre, the dress rehearsal for Bye Bye Birdie will be performed and anyone is welcome and encouraged to attend. The official shows are on Sept. 29, 30, and Oct. 1 at 7:00 p.m. and require online ticketing.