Say “Hello” to Bye, Bye Birdie

Neya Kidambi ‘22
EE Features Editor

After nineteen years, Bye, Bye Birdie will be coming back to the Robert E. McCarthy Theatre this spring, as the THeSpians prepare for their twenty-second production with Mrs. Jessica Spillane as director. Alongside Mrs. Spillane, producer Mrs. Shannon Bolan and technical director Mr. Matthew Bracksieck help guide around seventy-five cast and crew members to a successful production.

Inspired by rockstar Elvis Presley’s selection in the 1953 U.S. Army draft, Bye, Bye Birdie is a high energy, light-hearted show from the 1960s that tells the story of Conrad Birdie (Rob Goldstein ‘20), an adored rock-and-roll idol who gets drafted into the U.S. Army. Birdie’s agent, Albert Peterson (Nathan Ayotte ‘22), and Birdie’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, Rosie Alverez (Caroline Marchetti ‘21), plan a farewell performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, where they hope to sell Birdie’s new song “One Last Kiss” and ultimately save Albert’s record studio from going under. At the end of his performance, Birdie will actually give “one last kiss” to Kim MacAfee (Ella Miller ‘21), an avid fan.

However, as Albert and Rosie prepare for Birdie’s big final performance, things do not go as smoothly as planned; Kim’s father becomes starstruck at the thought of being on television, and Kim’s new boyfriend becomes jealous of Kim kissing Birdie on television.

As the story continues with these preparations for Birdie’s departure, the audience is serenaded with many other hit songs besides “One Last Kiss,” including “Put on a Happy Face,” “One Boy,” “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” “Kids!” and “Rosie,” all accompanied with a live orchestra.
The following is an interview between sophomore Neya Kidambi and Director Mrs. Spillane on the trials and travails of the play:

Neya: How many students are contributing to this year’s production?

Mrs. Spillane: Probably about 75, between the cast which is almost 50 in addition to the creative crew and the production team.

Neya: That’s impressive! So, from the director’s perspective, how is the show coming along?

Mrs. Spillane: It’s coming along… {laughs} very well. No snow days during our production time really helps us and everyone is working very hard. We set up our schedule so that there are certain days where we work with the whole cast and then other days where we work with small groups of people. This week is our first rehearsal where the actors have to have their lines memorized.

Neya: What do you think is the most difficult part about directing a THS musical and/or this show in particular?

Mrs. Spillane: Coordinating the whole thing is challenging, just because everybody that we work with is involved with other things as well. We are really trying to maintain our schedule, but still allow people time in their lives to do other things they want to do—because, you know, a lot of them dance in other things, or act in other shows, or take lessons—so they are getting all the skills they are using here from other places. In the last 4 weeks or so, that’s when we really say, OK now is our time, we all really have to get together and be here all the time.The other thing for this particular cast is that we have a lot of new young people, and getting all the cast integrated so they get to know each other really well can be challenging. It’s really important, though, and a major reason we do a musical every year.

Neya: So, what’s the most rewarding part?

Mrs. Spillane: Probably the second thing I talked about is what’s most rewarding. I love to see a show come together, but I also really love seeing the friendships that people have made— the way the cast and crew come together and get to know each other and make friends that they have for years. The other part [that I enjoy] is that we have a lot of students in leadership positions: whether it’s somebody who is the dance captain, the directing assistant, the stage managers, or the people who are working with our scene and lighting designers. What’s really rewarding is being able to put them in charge of things or give them something to work on and watching it come to fruition.

Neya: Why did you choose Bye Bye Birdie as this year’s musical?

Mrs. Spillane: It’s a really great show. It takes place in the 1950s, it’s high energy, it’s light -hearted, and those things are all a big contrast to the show that we did last year which was Chicago, a darker musical which takes place in the 1920s, and revolves around murder. We loved that show but that’s one of the things we try to do when we are choosing shows. We think about the four-year experience of students, so if they were in our program for four years, what’s a different mix of shows that they would get to work on. We approach it that way so that students aren’t doing shows where they always experience the same thing. So that’s definitely one of the things that influences our decision.

Neya: What do you think is the most special part of this year’s show?

Mrs. Spillane: A lot of the choices that we’ve made with the scenic design are really exciting. Sometimes we have a set piece that’s huge and we build it on stage and it never moves and we just kind of move the scenes around it. This year the design involves pieces that move all over the stage and sometimes they get moved by crew, sometimes they get moved by actors and sometimes they change in the midst of a scene so that’s something that’s really exciting and creative. It’s also scary because until they are built, and we start working with them, we don’t really know how it’s going to work. You just sort of imagine it and plan, but I think if we pull it off it’s going to be really exciting, interesting and creative for people. The other part is that we have several people for whom this is the first leading role they’ve had in one of our shows. It’s always really exciting to see young actors take on something they haven’t done before and be successful. They are working so hard and I think that will really turn into success for them.

Neya: How do you think this show will add into the legacy of THS musicals?

Mrs. Spillane: This is a show we actually did 19 years ago so I think it will be really exciting to hopefully welcome back some people who may have been in that show all those years ago. A couple of them have reached out and said they wanted to come. Mrs. Bolan, who is a math teacher, and our producer, was a student here when we did it last time. She was in it when she was a 10th grader— she was my student when she was here—and it was only the second show I did here, so for her to be able to produce it is really exciting and fun. So that’s part of it too; we don’t repeat shows all that often but when we do come back around to something it’s kind of like a revival.

Neya: Lastly, is there something you would like to say to the THS community before opening night comes along, when it is and so on?
Mrs. Spillane: So, we open on Friday, March 20th. We have 2 weekends of shows after that. I would encourage everybody from the THS community to come. I think it’s a really great, funny show. Not only would you come out and support your friends, you will have a really good time and see what our people can do.

General admission to the THeSpian’s production of Bye, Bye Birdie is $18.00 and more information can be found at www.THSmusicals.com.

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