Kelly Critic Review: 'Bye Bye Birdie,' Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School (first review of two)

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Ah, high school. The years of trying to fit in, wanting to grow up, and rebelling against your parents. Or so the musical, "Bye Bye Birdie," portrays it to be. But can the high school years of the '50s be the same as they are today?

Central Catholic High School's performance of "Bye Bye Birdie" led me to believe so. Of course the clothes were different and the house decorations were what we would now call "outdated," but it is easy to compare the trials and tribulations of Kim MacAffee, Hugo Peabody, and others with the teenagers of today, because of the energy and vigor put into the play by the student performers.

The show really is a snap-shot of the difference between ages, otherwise known as a generation gap. As musical heartthrob Conrad Birdie is being drafted into the war, his agents, Albert Peterson and secretary Rose Alvarez, must come up with how to exploit Birdie's last performance. Rose's idea: have Conrad sing his last song, "One Last Kiss," in Sweet Apple, Ohio and kiss 15 year old Conrad Birdie fan club president, Kim MacAffee.

As the show unfolds we see Kim's desire to be an adult and her parents' desire to be respected. Almost nothing goes according to Albert's and Rose's plan, but instead they learn a lot about themselves and each other along the way.

The vibrant colors in the costumes and scenery set the mood of the show. Hot pink, pastel blue, dark navy, bright yellow, and dazzling purple made the characters seem to pop on the stage. It also helped create the apparent generation gap between the parents, Rose and Albert, and the teenagers.

The opening scene with three or four animated Conrad Birdie fan club members immediately set the stage, literally, for the rest of the show. Their facial expressions and spot-on vocals brought a smile to everyone's face. They made the show more identifiable with today: this swooning and squealing over Conrad Birdie could easily be interchanged with today's fans of pop culture (Twilight, Hunger Games, Justin Bieber, etc.). The scene with all the teenagers on their phones shows how easily gossip spreads around and how much teenagers want to be in contact with each other, though today it would be done through texting, Facebook, or Twitter.

Though there were a few microphone problems and some scenery that had not quite made it onto stage in time, the memorable performances of the leads kept the audience distracted from these minor issues. Adam Johnson as Mr. MacAffee had the audience laughing at everything he did, be it quirky dance moves or a funny line. You could definitely tell that he took the role to heart and gave his all.

What sent the audience into awe, though, was the stunning vocals of Michael Zak as Charles F. Maude in his solo "Baby, Talk to Me." He flawlessly hit each note and his voice reached every person in the auditorium.

Perhaps the best part was the laughter from the crowd. I can't say that I've been to a show where I've seen an audience so engaged. There was not a dull moment. I think people will come away knowing that as much as teenagers want to grow up, they will always need their parents' advice and love.

The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools. Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson (, a long-time Kelly Awards judge.


First Published April 20, 2012 4:30 AM


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