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Bye Bye Birdie – 1963 Film Soundtrack

Bye Bye Birdie – 1963 Film Soundtrack

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Synopsis

Liner notes The news on the morning of April 15, 1960 couldn’t have been happier – Broadway had a giant hit in Bye Bye Birdie. The rapturous reception the premiere of the show had elicited the night before was a guarantee that it would have a long and profitable run, good news indeed for the theater community. Its success was all the more surprising in that it had been totally unanticipated, but everything about it was unusual. Taking a cue straight out of recent headlines, the new musical centered around one of the era’s most striking phenomena – the emergence in the mid-’50s of Elvis Presley, and the hysteria that swept the nation’s youth when it was announced that the singer would be drafted into the U.S. Army in 1958, in itself a rather unlikely topic for a musical. To protect the innocent, Michael Stewart, Charles Strouse, and Lee Adams, responsible for the book, music, and lyrics respectively, had cleverly avoided any direct reference to Elvis himself, and substituted instead another rock’n’roll figure of their own confection, Conrad Birdie. But no one was fooled, least of all Broadway critics who greeted the newcomer with superlative enthusiasm and audiences who kept it on the boards for 607 performances, not a record but a very respectable run. If truth be told, Bye Bye Birdie was not so much a depiction of the trials and tribulations of its title hero prior to becoming an unwilling guest of Uncle Sam, as it was an apt portrayal of the younger generation fed on rock’n’roll and their elders who bemoaned this new music trend, on which the creators had grafted a conventional love story between Albert Peterson (played by Dick Van Dyke), a songwriter, and Albert’s long-time secretary and girlfriend, Rosie Grant. The first of the great rock musicals, Bye Bye Birdie had come to Broadway with little advance fanfare. If its subject matter departed from the prevailing Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition (“it was odd – ground-breaking – to do a show on that subject,” acknowledges Charles Strouse), it barely raised an eyebrow when it was first announced, as all those involved in its creation were relative newcomers, largely untested in their field. Edward Padula, its producer, was a former stage manager; Charles Strouse, a rehearsal pianist; Lee Adams, a scribe for Time magazine; Michael Stewart, a television writer; Gower Champion, primarily a dancer; and Dick Van Dyke, a comic with no previous Broadway experience. Only Chita Rivera, as Rosie, could make some claim to recognition among theatergoers, following her recent success as Anita in West Side Story. Their lack of experience actually may have helped the creative team – rather than being discouraged by the various difficulties they initially encountered, they dared to be different, and brought to the task of putting together their musical a freshness and spontaneity that would have no doubt daunted more experienced hands. This was particularly evident in Champion’s clever staging of “The Telephone Hour,” in which the kids, in what looked like cutout cubicles, were perched in odd positions – slouching, kneeling, crouching or simply stretched out on the floor – in one of the show’s most whimsical numbers. “Bye Bye Birdie is the funniest, most captivating, and most expert comedy one could hope to see in several seasons of show-going,” wrote John Chapman, in the Daily News, in what amounted to a paean to the musical. “The show is pure, plain musical comedy, with jokes, dancing, oddball costumes, exceptionally catchy orchestrations, and a completely enthusiastic cast.” Nothing attracts success more than success, and soon after the show bowed on Broadway, it was announced that it would be turned into a film version by Columbia Pictures, which had outbid its competitors to the tune of $750,000 and a percentage of the gross. No expense was spared to make the new film into a profitable screen venture. But typical of Hollywood’s approach to filming stage properties, that adaptation tried very hard to go one better over its original blueprint. Though Dick Van Dyke (who had stopped the show with his rendition of “Put On a Happy Face”) and Paul Lynde (whose broad snide antics as a member of the older generation contributed so much of the fun) repeated their roles on screen, they were the only holdovers from the stage production. In the role of Rosie, Chita Rivera, a virtual unknown in Hollywood, was replaced by blonde Janet Leigh, a solid box-office name, wearing a brunette wig that made her look more “Spanish,” at least in the eyes of the film’s producers. Jesse Pearson, who had played Conrad in the national road company, took over the part created by Dick Gautier, and Maureen Stapleton, making her musical film debut, portrayed Albert’s mother. If those seemed minor technical adjustments, the film producers struck a definitely felicitous note when they hired 21-year-old Ann-Margret – whose appearance at the 1962 Academy Awards, where she sang “Bachelor in Paradise,” had created a national sensation – to portray Kim, a lucky Ohio teenager who, in one of the plot’s most improbable stunts, has been chosen to receive a kiss on television from Conrad before he leaves for his tour of duty. In one of her first major starring roles, Ann-Margret (singing the title song, written expressly for her by Strouse and Adams), turned what had been a minor part into a personal showcase, and stole the film as the ebullient, vivacious teenager who got serenaded by Conrad on the Ed Sullivan Show – and yes, because the famous stone-faced emcee was mentioned in the musical (though he never appeared in it), the film’s producer also brought him in to play himself. [Interestingly, shortly after making Bye Bye Birdie, a spoof about Elvis Presley, Ann-Margret starred with the King himself in Viva Las Vegas, in which she honed her image as a screen sex kitten.] Though Gower Champion was initially scheduled to stage the film, as he had done the show, he was eventually replaced by George Sidney, a musical film veteran with such screen fares as Show Boat, Kiss Me Kate, and Pal Joey to his credit, who took over the reins as director, and by Onna White, who handled the choreography. With a total budget of $6 million (more than half this amount was spent on the musical numbers alone), production began on May 3, 1962, and was completed by the end of August. Principal photography took place entirely on the Columbia soundstages, except for three numbers – “Honestly Sincere,” shot at another studio in Universal City; the rehearsal of “One Last Kiss,” staged at Hollywood High School’s gymnasium; and “We Love You Conrad,” filmed at Le Conte Junior High. When it premiered, on May 4, 1963, at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, the film received rapturous reviews (“A happy, buoyant and hilariously funny musical comedy,” is how the New York Daily News described it, while Variety singled out Ann-Margret as “a wow”), and over the course of its engagement it broke the theater’s all-time box-office records. Later that year, it received two Academy Awards® nominations for Best Scoring and Sound. Today much of the hoopla about it might have receded, but Bye Bye Birdie continues to charm and entertain, and its songs have lost none of their appeal and vivacity. This soundtrack album is a clear reminder of everything that made the film so exhilarating, from Dick Van Dyke reprising his showstopping “Put On a Happy Face,” to Jesse Pearson’s devastating take-off on Elvis in “Honestly Sincere” and “One Last Kiss,” to Ann-Margret, a delightful combination of kittenish innocence and sex-appeal, in the title tune. Indeed, we love you Conrad…

Credits

Rosie DeLeon: Janet Leigh Albert Peterson: Dick Van Dyke Kim McAfee: Ann-Margret Mama: Maureen Stapleton Hugo Peabody: Bobby Rydell Conrad Birdie: Jesse Pearson Ed Sullivan: Ed Sullivan Mr. McAfee: Paul Lynde Mrs. McAfee: Mary Laroche Randolph: Bryan Russell Music by Charles Strouse Lyrics by Lee Adams Screenplay by Irving Brecher Based upon the musical play, Bye Bye Birdie Book by Michael Stewart Music Supervised, Arranged and Conducted by Charles Strouse Music Supervised and Conducted by Johnny Green