Bye Bye Birdie is a stage musical with a book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse.
Originally titled Let's Go Steady, the satire on American society is set in 1958. The story was inspired by the phenomenon of popular singer Elvis Presley and his draft notice into the army in 1958. The rock star character's name, "Conrad Birdie," is word play on the name of Conway Twitty. Twitty is known as a country music star but also was one of Presley's rock 'n' roll rivals.
The original Broadway production was a Tony Award-winning success. It spawned a London production and several major revivals, a sequel, a 1963 film and a 1995 television production. The show also became a popular choice for high school and college productions.
The producer Edward Padula had the idea for a musical initially titled Lets Go Steady, a "happy teenage musical with a difference." Padula contracted with two writers, and Charles Strouse and Lee Adams wrote seven songs for their libretto. Padula, Strouse and Adams sought Gower Champion as director/choregrapher, who until that time had choreographed only a few musicals. (Fred Astaire and Morton DaCosta had already declined.) However, Champion did not like the book and the writers were fired, with Michael Stewart then hired. Stewart wrote an early version titled Love and Kisses, which focused on a couple thinking of divorce, but whose children persuade them to stay together. Champion wanted "something more". "The 'something more' had been right there in the newspaper. On September 22, 1958, rock-and-roll idol Elvis Presley, having been drafted, boarded a ship for eighteen months in Germany.... There was a media circus including Elvis giving a specially selected WAC 'one last kiss'". After brainstorming, Stewart and Adams "came up with the idea of a rock-and-roll singer going off to the army and its effect on a group of teenagers in a small town in Ohio." The name of the singer was Elsworth, then changed to "Conway Twitty before we discovered there was already a Conway Twitty who was threatening to sue us, and then, finally, Conrad Birdie."
Agent and songwriter Albert Peterson finds himself in trouble when hip-thrusting rock and roll superstar Conrad Birdie is drafted into the Army. Albert's secretary and sweetheart, Rose Alvarez, comes up with a last-ditch publicity stunt to have Conrad Birdie record and premiere a song before he is sent overseas. She makes Albert promise to give up the music business and to start teaching English at schools. ("An English Teacher.") They plan to have Birdie sing Albert's new song "One Last Kiss" and give one lucky girl from his fan club a real "last kiss" on The Ed Sullivan Show before going into the Army.
The lucky girl chosen randomly from Conrad's national fan club is fifteen-year-old Kim MacAfee from Sweet Apple, Ohio. All the teenagers in Sweet Apple are catching up on the latest gossip about Kim MacAfee and Hugo Peabody going steady ("The Telephone Hour"). Kim, excited to have a boyfriend, reflects on how happy she is with her maturity ("How Lovely to Be a Woman"). Conrad, Albert and Rosie set off to Sweet Apple to prepare for the event. Before they depart by train from New York City, local teenage girls are ecstatic to meet Conrad, but two young girls are sad that by the time Conrad gets out of the army, they'll be too old for him. Albert advises them to be optimistic ("Put on a Happy Face"). Soon, reporters arrive and ask Albert, Rosie, and the teenagers about Conrad ("A Healthy, Normal, American Boy"). Conrad receives a hero's welcome in Sweet Apple, and Hugo worries that Kim likes Conrad more than she likes him, but Kim assures Hugo that he's the only boy she loves ("One Boy"). Conrad shocks the town parents and drives the teenage girls crazy with his performance of "Honestly Sincere".
Conrad becomes a guest in the MacAfee house and irritates Kim's father, Harry MacAfee, by being a rude and selfish guest and calling him "Fats". But, Harry's wife Doris dotes on Conrad, leaving her husband with no breakfast other than a warm soft drink. Harry does not want Kim to kiss Conrad until Albert tells him their whole family will be on The Ed Sullivan Show. Harry, Doris, Kim, and her younger brother Randolph sing Sullivan's praises in "Hymn for a Sunday Evening". Hugo becomes disastrously jealous of Conrad. Albert's overbearing, interfering mother Mae comes to break up her son's relationship with the Hispanic Rosie. Although Rosie is a positive portrayal of a Latina, Mae is narrow-minded and dislikes Rosie dating her son.
Rosie and Hugo plot a way to ruin the broadcast. Conrad sings "One Last Kiss" on The Ed Sullivan Show, and as he leans in to kiss Kim, Hugo runs onstage and punches him in the face. On live television, Conrad collapses, Rosie breaks up with Albert, and Albert, trying to cover for the mishaps of the evening, leads a chorus of "A Healthy, Normal, American Boy" (Reprise).
Despite plans to refilm the broadcast, Rosie and Kim resolve to leave Albert and Hugo, each asking herself, "What Did I Ever See in Him?" Conrad decides he wants to go out and have a good time on his last night as a civilian, and encourages the teens to party, and they declare they've got "A Lot of Livin' to Do". Conrad, Kim, and all the teenagers except Hugo head for the Ice House where they can party without adult supervision. Hugo goes to Maude's Roadside Retreat, hoping to get drunk, but proprietor Charles F. Maude can tell that he's under age and refuses to serve him.
When Mr. MacAfee finds out Kim has run away, he and Mrs. MacAfee lament how disobedient "Kids" are today. Rosie ends up at Maude's Roadside Retreat, but Albert calls her on the telephone and begs her, "Baby Talk To Me". Rosie, hoping to forget Albert, interrupts a Shriners meeting being held in Maude's private dining room. She flirts with all the Shriners, and they begin a wild dance. Hugo and Albert rescue Rosie from the crazed Shriners, and Albert finally stands up to his mother, telling her to go home. Hugo tells the MacAfees and the other parents that the teenagers have all gone to the Ice House, and they all declare that they don't know what's wrong with their "Kids" (Reprise). Randolph joins in, stating that his older sister and the other teens are "ridiculous and so immature".
The adults and the police arrive at the Ice House and arrest Conrad, although he doesn't appear to have done anything illegal or immoral. Kim claims that she was intimidated by Conrad and Hugo gladly takes her back. After a reconciliation with Albert, Rosie sees Albert's mother and declares that she will marry Albert despite the mother's objections, and to irritate her, sings "Spanish Rose" with deliberate comic Hispanic exaggeration. Albert bails Conrad out of jail and arranges for him to sneak out of town dressed as a middle-aged woman—presumably so he can report for Army induction as scheduled. Albert also gets his mother to leave Sweet Apple bound for home on the same train, and then tells Rosie that they're going to Pumpkin Falls, Iowa. The small town is in need of an English teacher, and they prefer the applicant to be married. Albert professes his love for her in "Rosie", and they go off together.
Roles and original Broadway cast
Albert Peterson – Dick Van Dyke
Rosie Alverez – Chita Rivera
Conrad Birdie – Dick Gautier
Kim MacAfee – Susan Watson
Mr. MacAfee – Paul Lynde
Mrs. MacAfee – Marijane Maricle
Randolph MacAfee - Johnny Borden
Mrs. Mae Peterson, Albert's mother – Kay Medford
Hugo Peabody – Michael J. Pollard
Ursula Merkle – Barbara Doherty
Mr. Henkel – Charles Nelson Reilly
Sad Girl – Jasnick Williams
An English Teacher - Rosie & Albert
The Telephone Hour - Teenagers
How Lovely To Be a Woman - Kim
We Love You, Conrad! - Teenagers
Put On A Happy Face - Albert
A Healthy, Normal, American Boy - The Company
One Boy - Teenagers
One Boy (Reprise) - Rosie
Honestly Sincere - Conrad Birdie & Teenagers
Hymn For a Sunday Evening - The Macafee Family
A Giant Step - Albert & Mother
How To Kill A Man (Ballet) - Company
One Last Kiss - Conrad & Company
A Healthy, Normal, American Boy (Reprise, Act One Finale) - The Entire Company
What Did I Ever See In Him? - Rosie & Kim
A Lot Of Livin' To Do - Conrad, Kim & Company
Kids - Mr. and Mrs. Macafee
Baby, Talk To Me - Albert & Quartets
Shriner's Ballet (dance only) - Rosie, Albert & Company
Kids (Reprise) - The Company
Spanish Rose - Rosie
Rosie - Rosie & Albert
Finale - Rosie, Albert, Ed, Kim, Conrad, Hugo, Albert's Mother & and Company
The Broadway production opened on April 14, 1960, at the Martin Beck Theatre, transferring to the 54th Street Theatre and then the Shubert Theatre, closing on October 7, 1961, after 607 performances. Produced by Edward Padula and directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, the original cast included Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera, Paul Lynde, Dick Gautier, Susan Watson, Kay Medford and Charles Nelson Reilly. Reilly understudied for Van Dyke as Albert Peterson, who periodically took vacations and returned to the leading role. During pre-production, Chita Rivera had taken the role of Rosie after both Carol Haney and Eydie Gorme turned it down, and the character's last name was changed from "Grant" to "Alvarez". Replacements during the run included Gene Rayburn as Albert and Gretchen Wyler as Rosie.
The musical opened in the West End at Her Majesty's Theatre in June 1961, with Peter Marshall as Albert, Rivera reprising her role as Rosie, Angela Baddeley as Mae and Marty Wilde as Conrad Birdie. That production ran for 268 performances.
In 1981, there was a short-lived Broadway sequel, Bring Back Birdie, starring Donald O'Connor and returning original cast member Chita Rivera. It closed after four performances.
A U.S. tour from mid-1990 through June 1991 starred Tommy Tune as Albert, Ann Reinking as Rosie, Marc Kudisch as Conrad, Marcia Lewis as Mrs. Peterson, and Susan Egan as Kim.
The New York City Center Encores! staged concert production ran in May 2004, with Karen Ziemba as Rosie, Daniel Jenkins as Albert, Jessica Grové as Kim, and Bob Gaynor as Conrad. An abridged version of Bye Bye Birdie was presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, October 2-5, 2008, as part of its Broadway: Three Generations production. Laura Osnes played Kim and Leslie Kritzer played Rosie.
Among others who have appeared in stage productions of Bye Bye Birdie are Steve Zahn, Doris Roberts, Rue McClanahan, Gary Sandy, and Kim Darby,
A non-equity Windwood Theatricals production toured the U.S. and Canada in 2009 produced by Paul Bartz. It starred Regina Gatti as Rosie, Jonathan Van Dyke as Albert, Lara Hayhurst as Kim, and Eli Budwill as Conrad.
The Roundabout Theatre Company's limited-run Broadway revival began previews at Henry Miller's Theatre on September 10, 2009, opened to mostly negative reviews on October 15, 2009 and was scheduled to close January 10, 2010 before it was extended until April 25, 2010. However, due to poor advance sales after the expiration of lead actors John Stamos and Gina Gershon's contracts, the closing date was moved up to January 24, 2010. Robert Longbottom is the director-choreographer, with John Stamos and Gina Gershon starring as Albert Peterson and Rosie Alvarez, Bill Irwin as Harry MacAfee, Jayne Houdyshell as Mrs. Mae Peterson, Nolan Gerard Funk as Conrad, Allie Trimm as Kim MacAfee and Matt Doyle as Hugo Peabody.
Awards and nominations
Tony Award for Best Musical (winner)
Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Van Dyke, winner; Gautier, nominee)
Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Rivera, nominee)
Tony Award for Best Scenic Design for a Musical (nominee)
Tony Award for Best Choreography (winner)
Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (winner)
Tony Award for Best Conductor and Musical Director (nominee)
The song "The Telephone Hour" is frequently parodied in television shows; for example, in the opening number of the Xena musical episode "Lyre Lyre Hearts on Fire", in the Family Guy DVD version of the episode "Petarded", and a "Kids" parody in The Simpsons episode "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken". The song was also used in an episode of The Daily Show to explain columnist Robert Novak's public disclosure of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Another song, "Put on a Happy Face", has been used in various television commercials, including for Wal-Mart in the 2000s for an advertising campaign with its smiley logo. The song was used in the 1970s for a Kool-Aid commercial featuring a very young Jimmy Osmond, and in a cold sore medicine commercial. Instead of "Grey Skies Are Gonna Clear Up", the jingle ran, "Cold Sores Are Gonna Clear Up...". Another use for "Put on a Happy Face" was in the BBC television program Keeping Up Appearances. In that show's Christmas episode, "Sea Fever", the song is used as dance music aboard the QE2 when Hyacinth Bucket finds out that her brother-in-law Onslow won a cruise from horse racing.
A parody of Bye, Bye, Birdie was done in the animated TV series Home Movies in the fourth episode of the fourth season, called "Bye Bye Greasy". The episode involved the main characters directing and performing in a school play named Bye Bye Greasy. The plot of the play featured a mix of other works including Grease, and Rebel Without a Cause.
The song "A Lot of Livin' to Do" plays on the radio in the car in the beginning of the movie Secondhand Lions. In an episode of the sitcom One on One, the character Duane Knox announces, "It's bye bye, birdie!" when the mascot for the Baltimore Orioles intercepts a jersey that Cal Ripken throws at him. In an episode of The Golden Girls, Rose brings home a chicken who plays the piano. When Rose says, "He takes requests," Blanche replies with, "How about 'Bye Bye Birdie'". In an episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Mr. Moseby is annoyed by a hawk circling the hotel and announces "That's it! After tomorrow it's bye, bye birdie!" Then, the hotel's restaurant host, Patrick, pops up and says, "Oh! I love that musical! Like when the kids are on the phones in the squares".
Wal-Mart used the song "How Lovely to be a Woman" in a 2009 commercial. The advertisement showed women using various make-up and cosmetic products. In Nancy Drew Notebook #67, the "Eric Stanley fan club" sings the song "We Love you Conrad"" while substituting Eric for Conrad.
The title song, sung by Ann-Margret, featured significantly in the third season of Mad Men(2009).