Tony winner Harvey Fierstein, who can currently be seen Off-Broadway in Martin Sherman's new drama Gently Down the Stream, spoke to the Hollywood Reporter about some of the changes audiences can expect in the next live NBC musical, Bye Bye Birdie.
As previously announced, Jennifer Lopez is set to star and executive produce alongside producing partner Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Benny Medina, as well as the pair behind NBC’s previous four live musicals, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.
Fierstein plans to make the new version of Birdie less sexist than the original 1960 production, explaining, “I want to be true to the time it takes place but at the same time, having Rosie be Albert's secretary whom he's having an affair with is a little sexist and old-fashioned. I didn't see any reason for that. So I changed that. I made them both high school teachers. He's the English teacher who writes a song, and she's the music teacher who says, 'I've got a great kid with a great voice.' He ends up being Conrad Birdie, who's supposed to only take one summer off to promote the record but turns into a star. It's been eight years and Rosie just wants to go back to their real lives. It really makes a lot more sense that way.”
The original book for the Tony-winning musical was penned by Michael Stewart, a Tony winner for the libretto of Hello, Dolly! Fierstein says he has great respect for Stewart's work, adding, “I spoke to his sister and made sure she knew the changes I was going to make and I would hope Michael would be happy with, had he lived into our time.”
The NBC version of Birdie will also feature revised lyrics to “An English Teacher,” a reordering of some songs and scenes, and a spotlight on Rosie's struggles as a middle-aged Puerto Rican woman.
Tony winner Jerry Mitchell and Emmy winner Alex Rudzinski, who both worked on NBC’s Hairspray Live!, will return to the network to helm Bye Bye Birdie Live! Mitchell will provide stage direction for the telecast, while Rudzinski will once again head the technical aspects of the event.
The show is set during the height of rock ‘n’ roll in Ohio, where teen heartthrob Conrad Birdie will give a lucky small-town girl “One Last Kiss” before heading off to the army.