By Steven Suskin
20 Jan 2013
The motion picture version of Charles Strouse and Lee Adams' Bye Bye Birdie opened 49 years ago, and I find that I have never been compelled to listen to the original soundtrack recording. It now arrives on CD, expanded and newly remastered, and I suppose this will make a perfect addition to the collections of fans of the film. I, myself, am less than enthused. The Birdie score, as heard on the original Broadway and London cast albums, is witty, sly and delicious. The film seems to slam its way through the songs, removing all subtlety and nuance.
You have only to compare the handling of "Put On a Happy Face" to get an idea of how far afield they went. What was the most charming of charm songs for Dick Van Dyke on stage is drastically diminished on screen. Leading players Albert and Rosie are given relatively little to sing, altogether. Oh, well; at least Hollywood gives us Ann-Margret, and a new title song. But me, I'll take Susan Watson.
Bonus tracks include pop singles of "How Lovely to Be a Woman" and "Bye Bye Birdie," both sung by Ms. Margret. They also give us almost four minutes-worth of "The Sultan's Ballet," for those who want four minutes-worth of "The Sultan's Ballet."
And what about these new lyrics we hear? They don't replace censorable words, they don't reflect plot changes, and some of them sound mighty awkward. I would have to guess that the original lyricist Lee Adams was called in to do them, but I can't imagine Lee — one of the most facile lyricists of the time — voluntarily rhyming "ring-a-ding drummer" with "beg for my number."
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