Fall musical 'Bye Bye Birdie' takes a fun look at fandom

Santa Catalina School Theatre Arts’ fall musical, 1960’s Bye Bye Birdie, felt like the perfect fit for today’s Taylor Swift era.
It was hard not to think of Swifties when watching the screaming, fainting fans of teen idol Conrad Birdie (Debra Wachira ’26) on the Performing Arts Center stage. A loving send-up of the 1950s, small-town America, teenagers, and rock ’n’ roll, Bye Bye Birdie remains as fresh and vibrant as ever.
When Conrad is drafted into the Army, a plan is hatched for a farewell performance to remember. To promote his new song, “One Last Kiss,” Conrad will bestow a kiss on all-American girl and fan club member Kim MacAfee (Emmy McHugh ’26) on The Ed Sullivan Show. His arrival in her small Ohio town sends everyone into a tizzy, from his excitable fans to Kim’s parents (Emme Adamski ’27 and Rosette Tawfik ’26) and boyfriend (Leah Brewer ’24), who object to the publicity stunt.
The central focus of the show, however, rests on Conrad’s songwriter, Albert Peterson (Rehema Kiama ’24), and Albert’s secretary, Rose Alvarez (Anna Halim ’25). Albert and Rose wish to be married, but must contend with the chaos surrounding Conrad as well as Albert’s biased and manipulative mother, Mae (Zay Mohan-Black ’26).
Audiences were treated to hilarious performances, incredible set pieces and dance numbers, and even a bit of Catalina flair: Fans’ special song for Birdie, “We Love You, Conrad,” followed the song that juniors sing to their senior ring sisters.
The production involved about a quarter of the student body and counted several middle school students among the cast. “Although this is my third show, I continue to be amazed at how much work goes into each production,” says Anna, citing the tech crew’s hand in sets, props, backdrops, lighting, sound, and scene changes, as well as countless hours of rehearsal and the dedicated guidance of mentors. “When we perform a show, it is completely run by students. There are many people onstage and backstage that each play a crucial role in making the shows happen as amazingly as they do. … This responsibility improves our independence and makes us all the more proud when the show goes well.”
Read more of Anna’s reflections about the production below.
On playing Rose ...
Playing Rose was an amazing experience. I loved diving into her wants and dreams and connecting that to who she is as a character. She is sassy, smart, and fun, and I had a wonderful time expressing these different sides of her. Rose’s red-themed wardrobe and bright lipstick added to her fierceness and made playing her even more enjoyable. I admire Rose’s determination throughout the show and identify with her humor and lively attitude.
On the relevance of Bye Bye Birdie today ...
Bye Bye Birdie continues to remind us how behavior has changed throughout the years and can continue to change for the better. It gives us context of how life was in the 1950s relating to views on interracial marriage and the concept of fandoms. Seeing this allows people to recognize the important changes and advances made in our society since then. It is also an example to all women that they can seek to achieve many feats while also wanting to have a family ... both are possible and respectable. Fandom, and how much people obsess over celebrities, is an even bigger concept now with the internet and immense increase in celebrity reach.
On the impact of Catalina theatre ...
Doing theater at Catalina has led me to becoming the best version of myself. It continues to build my confidence and introduce me to new things and skills. ... [Theatre Department Chair Lara Wheeler Devlin ’02] recently told us that theatre is amazing because it teaches us that everything in life will not always be perfect. I believe that is a very valuable lesson I will use beyond my time at Catalina. Mistakes will be made; it’s a part of life. However, we cannot dwell over mistakes, only work to improve them for the next time.

See photos from the show on SmugMug.

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