White Hill’s production of Bye Bye Birdie: an amusing blast from the 1950’s past


Corina Karr

Conrad Birdie’s fan girls sing a song in admiration of him during the opening scene on the San Anselmo Theatre’s catwalk.

Friday evening, Apr. 22 at 7 pm, White Hill Middle School’s “Cool Cat” cast began a weekend-long chain of Bye Bye Birdie productions at the San Anselmo Playhouse. The rom-com musical sent middle school actors back to the 1950’s in an entertaining, fast-paced throwback.

Bye Bye Birdie centers around teenage heartthrob singer, Conrad Birdie (Petra Betti) and his quest for one last hit single before he follows through with his draft into the U.S. Army. The plan: have Birdie sing his single “One Last Kiss” on the popular The Ed Sullivan Show and end the performance with his last kiss before going to war. Conrad’s manager Albert Peterson chooses 15-year-old Kim MacAfee (Amalya Rajparis), President of the Conrad Birdie fan club, to deliver the kiss.

Despite the story’s emphasis on kissing, there is no such thing in the show. Intimacy is reduced to a few short and slightly awkward hugs; a reminder of the actors’ true ages. 

The ensemble’s passion shone through the actors’ bright and smiling expressions. Songs like “Going Steady” bounce with a retro joy that only the colorful 1950’s phones can bring. The San Anselmo Playhouse has only three hanging microphones, making it hard to hear some lines, yet the actor’s emotive facial expressions make up for the lack of volume. 

The show’s 1958 setting provided creativity for throwback costumes and sets, complete with flouncy dresses and soda shop “The Ice House.” Conrad’s fangirls were decked out in colorful dresses and “I love Conrad” fan buttons. There were a variety of set changes, all swift and quick.

Rose Alvarez (Georgia Conway) sings to Albert Peterson (Cavan Donery) about his career, and what it could have been. (Corina Karr)

The play’s approximately hour-long runtime leads to a quick moving story which left out some parts of the original. Fortunately, the scenes chosen to present carried the story on well; forming a timeline that flowed smoothly. The fast paced plot makes it impossible to grow bored for even a moment.

YES theater is a branch of the YES foundation which brings enrichment programs to all five Ross Valley Schools. Their shows typically have four public performances over one weekend, two shows performed by each cast. Although the “Cool Cat” cast’s final performance was on Apr. 22 in the afternoon, the “Hound Dog” cast performed on Apr. 23 and 24. The shows were live-streamed and are now available to view on YouTube. 

 White Hill’s annual musicals bring in crowds of all ages time and time again. I give the “Cool Cat” cast of Bye Bye Birdie four-and-a-half out of five feathers for a fast paced performance with fun ensemble numbers.