April 25, 2011

Bye Bye Birdie Opens This Week!

When 1960s heartthrob Conrad Birdie is drafted into the Army, a lucky fan will give him "One Last Kiss" on The Ed Sullivan Show in this Tony Award-winning musical and audience favorite.

Here are some reflections from Scott Hayes, director of Bye Bye Birdie!

It seems as if every person in the theatre has some experience with Bye Bye Birdie.  Birdie’s own beginnings were incredibly humble. Composer Charles Strouse and producer Edward Padula worked on the musical Saratoga, where Padula told Strouse he had an idea for a teenage musical.  Strouse teamed up with lyricist Lee Adams with whom he had written weekly revues for an Adirondack summer camp called Green Mansions. In fact, “Put on a Happy Face” came from one of those revues. An actor in a tragedy mask would come out and complain about the world, and another actor with a comic mask would sing the first few stanzas of what would become one of the most recognizable songs in music theatre.  Together Strouse, Adams, book writer Michael Stewart and yet-unknown director Gower Champion toiled along without a fully realized concept until 1958, when Elvis Presley was drafted into the Army.  When it was announced Presley was to give a “last kiss” to a specially chosen Women’s Army Corpswoman (WAC), the musical creators had a concept for their show. 

The musical’s title character was originally named Conway Twitty.  Strouse claimed the production team had no idea that there was an actual Conway Twitty until Twitty threatened a lawsuit, and the name was changed to Conrad Birdie.

The musical had fairly successful out-of-town tryouts, yet arrived in New York with only $245 in advance box office sales. One of the reasons for the poor advance sales was the lack of recognizable stars. Chita Rivera had excelled in West Side Story butwas no box office draw, and her leading men, Dick Van Dyke and Paul Lynde, were almost completely unknown.  The production was a surprise hit, winning four Tony Awards, running for more than 600 performances and spawning the movie version with Ann-Margret and Janet Leigh.  Strouse, Adams and Champion (not to mention Rivera, Van Dyke and Lynde) became music theatre royalty, creating other musicals such as Golden Boy, Applause, Nick and Nora, Rags, Hello, Dolly!, I Do! I Do!, and for Strouse —Annie .

 When I was asked to direct Birdie in the spring of 2010, I was personally and nostalgically thrilled.  I had been introduced to acting during a high school production of Birdie in 1983.  However, as I began analyzing the script I realized the musical had been written so the audience would recognize a spoof on current events—rock and roll as a new genre, and that genre’s effects: the cult of celebrity and a growing chasm between the teenage fans and their parents. Our contemporary audience would not be looking at the musical as it was intended. 

Last July I was leading a panel for a Christians in Theatre Arts conference during which I asked the creators of the musical spoof Altarboyz if they thought the demise of boy bands would hurt the show’s appeal.  They made the point that the male rock celebrity is an enduring American tradition.  Right now, my pre-teen daughters are outgrowing Justin Bieber and, before that, the Jonas Brothers.  A generation prior screamed for the Backstreet Boys, and the list goes back in time—Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, the Bee Gees, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and, yes, Elvis.  Bye Bye Birdie is at once nostalgic and current, spoofing the past and the present. 

Bye Bye Birdie runs April 29-May 1 & May 6-8 in the Main Theater

Contact the Box office for tickets today!
757.352.4245 or www.regent.edu/theatre
Adults: $15 — Discount*: $12 — Employees**: $10 — Regent Students: $7

*Includes military, senior, student, alumni and child (age 5-18).
**Includes Regent and CBN employees.

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