Berner played ‘Birdie’

Pictured at a dress rehearsal, the Rev. Dr. Tim Berner, principal at Concordia Academy, reminisced and, with coaxing, got into the Conrad Birdie character he played 30 years earlier, alongside 2015’s Conrad Birdie, played by senior Sam Krueger. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
Pictured at a dress rehearsal, the Rev. Dr. Tim Berner, principal at Concordia Academy, reminisced and, with coaxing, got into the Conrad Birdie character he played 30 years earlier, alongside 2015’s Conrad Birdie, played by senior Sam Krueger. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
“Elvis wannabe” Tim Berner as Conrad Birdie in 1985. (submitted photo)
“Elvis wannabe” Tim Berner as Conrad Birdie in 1985. (submitted photo)

Concordia principal remembers high school turn as school says ‘Bye Bye’ again

When Concordia Academy Principal the Rev. Dr. Tim Berner reminisces about his turn in the title role of the school’s 1985 production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” he remembers heady times.

“You’re playing an Elvis-type character and it’s a big ego trip because everyone is in love with this character,” Berner says of playing Conrad Birdie 30 years ago.

Lyrics from the classic Broadway play and feature film definitely back his memory up. How the girls sing, “We love you Conrad, oh yes we do!”

Berner has occasion to reminisce because Concordia is once more staging the play as its spring show, with five performances March 12-15.

Set in 1958, the play is a satire, plotted around a Presley-like, rock and rolling, teenage heartthrob named Conrad Birdie, who is drafted into the U.S. Army.

This spring’s production marks only the third time the Christian high school has put this particular show on, and most definitely marks the only time the school has experienced such an alignment of current principal and former leading man.

Berner jokes that his motivation to join the school play as a 17-year-old senior in high school was simple: “There were cute girls in the cast that I wanted to be with,” he says. “That’s all I needed for motivation.”

The principal relents a bit and explains that joining the production, his first ever, was motivated by his friends on the cast. In hindsight, he says, he regretted not getting into theater sooner than the spring of his final year in high school, which was his last opportunity during that phase in life.

Some smaller roles in college punctuated Berner’s acting career, though he says that none achieved the heights of his first role.

“They would not top Conrad Birdie,” he says. “It was all down hill from there.”

Hello, hello

Berner’s post-graduation time away from Concordia only lasted until 1994, when he says he returned to the school as a chaplain to teach theology classes and counsel students.

His fellow teachers, some of whom taught Berner during his student days at the school, found a boxful of buttons bearing his likeness as Birdie—“looking like an Elvis wannabee,” he says—and they greeted him upon his return in a special way.

“When I started here, they found a box of those buttons and all the teachers were wearing those,” he says. “Welcome back Conrad.”

From that welcome, Berner stayed at Concordia and by 2007, he became its principal. Berner says his changing roles, from student to principal, Birdie or not, are unique. “It’s not very common at all, I’ve never heard of it happening, actually,” he says.

Some of the buttons are still around, Berner says, adding that pupils have seen them. “One of the students said, ‘You looked chiseled back then.’”

Berner has utmost confidence in the current Conrad Birdie, Sam Krueger, who is also an offensive lineman for the Beacons’ football team.

“He’ll be excellent,” he says, adding that he offered to make a cameo appearance as the title character’s grandfather.

“I turned down my career in showbiz and became a principal,” Berner says. “I’m all about the kids.”

Concordia Academy’s performances of “Bye Bye Birdie” are March 12, 13 and 14 at 7 p.m. and March 14 and 15 at 2 p.m. Reserved seat tickets are $12, general admission tickets are $10 and students and seniors tickets are $8.

—Mike Munzenrider

 

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