Santa Fe Christian junior conducts professional orchestra for production of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’

Kevin Charoensri, 16, will conduct a professional orchestra in his school's production of "Bye Bye Birdie."

The Santa Fe Christian Schools’ production of “Bye Bye Birdie” will open March 13 with 16-year-old high school junior Kevin Charoensri conducting an orchestra of professional musicians who have played in some of the top venues throughout the region.

There will be seven shows over the next week at the Star Theatre in Oceanside.

When Kevin first broached the idea of leading the orchestra himself, he said he thought, “Who’s going to let a 16-year-old conduct a bunch of professionals for a cast of 99?”

But after getting the OK, he said he felt it was a good opportunity to “take it up a notch” and add to his past music experience, which includes composing and conducting an original piece of his music, “Return,” two years ago at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. During that eight-day trip, he led a band of 70 international students.

“It was going to be a challenge and it wasn’t going to be easy,” Kevin said of his new opportunity to bolster his resume as a conductor.

The 99-member cast of “Bye Bye Birdie,” which has been going through rehearsals leading up to this weekend’s opening night, includes experienced actors and others who are newer to theater. The school, located in Solana Beach, typically draws crowds of 300 to 400 people for each of its shows at the Star Theatre, Kevin said.

“We have a very wide range of performers, but overall it’s coming together really well,” he added.

Kevin also said it’s his first time participating in a production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” a 1963 musical loosely based on Elvis Presley being drafted into the U.S. Army at the height of his fame. The musical’s main character, Conrad Birdie, is drafted into the army, and songwriter Albert Peterson comes up with a plan for one last performance before Conrad is deployed.

Long-term, Kevin said he wants to compose and conduct more of his own original music. He started playing piano at age 5, and began conducting when he was in seventh grade.

“I think there’s a magic to conducting your own pieces of music,” he said.

The “Bye Bye Birdie” showtimes are Friday, March 13, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 14, at 2 and 7 p.m.; Friday, March 20, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, March 21, at 2 and 7 p.m.

The Star Theatre is located at 402 North Coast Highway in Oceanside. For more information and tickets, visit