Jerry Zaks (Guys and Dolls, Little Shop of Horrors) directs the revival of the musical by librettist Michael Stewart, lyricist Lee Adams and composer Charles Strouse. The show was a rare original musical, not based on source material, though it was inspired by the real-life story of Elvis Presley being drafted into the U.S. Army, and its effect on teen girls.
The fictionalized story concerns the Army-bound superstar Conrad Birdie and the woes of Albert Peterson, his manager and songwriter. A plan is hatched to give Conrad a major TV sendoff on the Ed Sullivan show, which will shoot on location in the town of Sweet Apple, Ohio, where one lucky girl wins the chance to kiss Conrad goodbye.
After the event, Albert and his long-suffering love, Rosie, can retire from showbiz. Albert's meddling mother, Mae, played at City Center by Doris Roberts (of TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond"), proves an obstacle for Albert and Rosie.
The show begat a movie that starred Ann-Margret (as high-schooler Kim McAfee) and Dick Van Dyke (who was Albert on Broadway). A TV movie in 1995 starred Vanessa Williams and Jason Alexander and incorporated new songs "Let's Settle Down" (which won an Emmy Award) and "A Mother Doesn't Matter" (a choice, guilt-inducing song for mama Mae, played by Tyne Daly). The 1960 Broadway script and score are being employed for Encores! (which means no specialty or character material written for the films or revivals is being interpolated).
The Encores! cast includes Daniel Jenkins as Albert, Karen Ziemba as Rosie, William Robert Gaynor as Conrad, Walter Bobbie (the onetime artistic director of Encores!) as Mr. MacAfee (a role originated by Paul Lynde), Jessica Grové as lovestruck Kim MacAfee, Keith Nobbs as her steady Hugo, Victoria Clark as Mrs. MacAfee, William Ullrich as Randolph MacAfee. Music director Rob Fisher conducts the Encores! orchestra. Casey Nicolaw choreographs. David Ives penned the concert adaptation of the script. Encores! celebrates lesser-known or not recently revived musicals in concert, with minimal set and costumes, though choreography is employed (through a special contract with Actors' Equity). Actors hold scripts in hand.
A fully-staged Broadway-bound revival of Bye Bye Birdie is in the works for later this year, apparently not using the template of the Encores! run (the current Chicago and Wonderful Town revival were both born at Encores!).
The show is also being considered for another film adaptation by Columbia Pictures.
Bye Bye Birdie debuted on Broadway April 14, 1960, at the Martin Beck Theatre, running 607 performances before closing Oct. 7, 1961. Gower Champion directed and choreographed the production starring Chita Rivera and Dick Van Dyke. The production won the 1961 Tony Award for Best Musical as well as Featured Actor (Van Dyke), Producer (Edward Padula), Director, Choreographer and Author. Best Score had not yet been introduced in the Tonys, but Strouse and Adams received Tonys by association for the Best Musical win.
The musical's score features "Kids," "We Love You, Conrad," "Spanish Rose," "Put on a Happy Face," "The Telephone Hour," "Rosie," An English Teacher," "How Lovely to Be a Woman," "A Lot of Livin' to Do," "Baby, Talk to Me," "One Boy," "A Healthy Normal American Boy," "What Did I Ever See in Him?," "Hymn for a Sunday Evening," and two hip-swivelling rock 'n' roll spoofs: "One Last Kiss" and "Honestly Sincere."
The May 10 performance is the annual Encores! gala benefit for City Center, this year celebrating its 60th anniversary.
Bye Bye Birdie plays 8 PM May 6, 8 PM May 7, 2 & 8 PM May 8, 6:30 PM May 9, 7 PM May 10.
Tickets to Bye Bye Birdie at City Center, 131 West 55th Street (between Sixth and Seventh Ave.), call (212) 581-1212 or (877) 581-1212 outside metropolitan NYC, NJ, and CT. For more information, visit www.citycenter.org.
In a 2002 interview with Playbill On-Line, during a regional run of the new Strouse-Adams musical, Marty, lyricist Adams spoke about Birdie's most famous song, "Put on a Happy Face."
"We learned our stuff also in the mountains, at Green Mansions, this place in the Adirondacks where young singles from New York would go to meet each other, and we had a full theatre program: Orchestra, sets, costumes, lights, a theatre," Adams said. "We would do an original revue every Saturday night — music, lyrics, sketches all summer. That was a great place. You had to learn to write fast. When it came time to write Birdie, we kept saying we needed a song like 'Put On a Happy Face,' which we wrote in the mountains. Finally, we said, maybe we could use 'Happy Face.' [Their standard] 'Once Upon a Time' from All American was also one of the songs from Green Mansions."
In 1981, Strouse and Adams collaborated on a sequel to Bye Bye Birdie called Bring Back Birdie. It was a quick Broadway flop, but a cast album survived. Chita Rivera repeated her original role as Rosie.