Hello, ‘Bye Bye Birdie’: The Lead Up to Putting on a Superb Performance


Mayesha Soshi

Stage Manager, Sylvie Klingborg ’21, kept things orderly and in fashion on set.

From the Martin Beck Theatre to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium, award winning musical, ‘Bye Bye Birdie,’ has traveled all the way around the country and made its way to the Bronx Science stage on December 5th and 6th, 2019.

Based on the life of popular singer Elvis Presley, ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ follows the story of teenage heartthrob and rock ‘n’ roll superstar, Conrad Birdie, as he is drafted into the United States Army. In response to his draft, Albert Peterson, Conrad’s agent, plans a last minute stunt for Conrad to bestow a “last kiss” to one of the members of his fan club live on the Ed Sullivan Show. As the musical progresses, Peterson struggles to juggle the chaos of writing the perfect last song, pleasing his patronizing mother, and maintaining his eight year long relationship with his secretary, Rose Alvarez.

Mayesha Soshi
The Stage Crew was kept busy with building the set for the musical ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’

With this sensational musical, the Drama Department put on a spectacular show with a new director stepping into the spotlight, Ms. Kristen Parness. With a long background in the arts, Ms. Parness stepped in to fill the shoes of former director, Mr. Robert Brown, who retired from being a faculty advisor in June 2019. Ms. Parness noted that she was “excited for the opportunity” to put on a “tremendously fun and energetic show celebrating a classic time period and teen love.”

Under the new direction, the cast and crew worked around the clock to bring the audience back in time to the 1950s rock ‘n’ world. Margaret Monahan ’21, the head of the Costumes Department, explained that she, along with her co-head, Felicia Chen ’20, “helped all of the actors to look their best while keeping the authenticity of the time period.”

They dedicated tremendous amounts of time to creating ‘look books’ that accurately represented the characters and each of their personal styles. They also worked alongside the cast members to sort hair and make-up in order to produce the most accurate picture of the fifties lifestyle. “We used fun vintage clothing, such as poodle skirts and leather jackets,” said Stage Manager Sylvie Klingborg ’21. “We also incorporated pastel colors that matched the set and the props.”

The Stage Crew “aimed for a colorful, versatile set that the actors [as well as the audience] could really interact with,” said Klingborg. They even incorporated “new and usual elements into the show” to provide a unique and eye catching experience for the audience.

The cast also made great progress in terms of adapting to their characters and memorizing their lines during the months of October and November 2019, leading up to the show. Many cast members are experienced actors or are returning members of the Drama Department, so they were quick to learn their lines and get comfortable in the theater scene. Even with their comfort, the cast members put in laborious efforts to make sure that they perfected their roles before opening night on December 5th, 2019. Labiba Islam ’22, who played the character of a crazy fangirl, described how she figuratively “burnt [her] throat” while rehearsing for her role, which involved a lot of screeching.

On top of preparing for their roles, cast and ensemble members worked long hours in order to master the choreography for the musical. Jean Namgung ‘20, a veteran to the Drama Department, explained how the new musical director and new choreographer director, Kelly Schaff and Marcus Daniel, respectively, helped the cast members to rehearse and to perfect their routines. “Practicing can be a lot of fun,” said Namgung, “but there are days when it gets real. The choreography is super high-energy and very technical, so we often looked over videos of us dancing and practiced at home.” Some days, the cast walked out of the auditorium feeling like they had just completed a pilates workout. At the end of the day, though, it was all worth it to them because they  came together to produce a beautiful piece of work in December.

With only a few months of preparation in the fall of 2019, the Drama Department made significant progress quickly and put on a picturesque show on December 5th and 6th, 2019. Klingborg said, “The musical was a lot of fun, and it included plenty of humor and a knock-off Elvis!” Students dedicated weeks and months of their time to make this production a success. “On opening night, the people coming to root for us and to watch this show was honestly such a supportive gesture, and it made it all worth it!” said Islam.

Intense emotions surrounded many of the cast members at the conclusion of the final performance. Namgung, who is taking part in her last musical at Bronx Science before she graduates in June 2020, said, “There is no better feeling than being on stage doing what you love with the people who were once strangers, but who are now family. I wouldn’t want my last musical to have been any other way.”

Haley Sim ’20, the props director for the musical, described the dynamic between cast and crew as a “family” and as a “team.” She said that their “teamwork and commitment to long hours and days of rehearsal proved” that they were a close-knit group.

The Stage Crew “aimed for a colorful, versatile set that the actors [as well as the audience] could really interact with,” said Sylvie Klingborg ’21.