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Theatre / Bye Bye Birdie

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"We love you, Conrad, oh yes we do
We love you, Conrad, and we'll be true
When you're not near us, we're blue
Oh, Conrad, we love you."

Bye Bye Birdie is a 1960 musical comedy with book by Michael Stewart, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams, inspired by the hoopla that surrounded Elvis Presley's induction into the U.S. Army.

The story concerns Albert Peterson, a neurotic wannabe academic who is working as an agent for rock-and-roll sensation (and troublemaker) Conrad Birdie in order to pay off his debts and return to college, and the scheme he cooks up along with his secretary, Rosie Alvarez, to make a killing when Conrad is drafted into the Army. Since this means he'll likely be "out of action" for at least two years, which—as we all know—might as well be forever in the entertainment business, Albert needs to cash in big and cash in now.

Albert's plan is really quite simple: all he has to do is write a hit song called "One Last Kiss" for Conrad to record, and announce that Conrad is going to perform that song for just one of his millions of hysterical fangirls, giving her that "one last kiss" in the process. Then all he has to do is keep Conrad out of trouble long enough to get him into the Army and out of his hair and the money is bound to start rolling in. What could possibly go wrong? The lucky girl turns out to be Kim MacAfee, the president of the Conrad Birdie Fan Club in Sweet Apple, Ohio, who just happens to be going out with a nerdy boy named Hugo. Hilarity Ensues.

The original Broadway production of Bye Bye Birdie starred Dick Van Dyke as Albert, Chita Rivera as Rosie, and Susan Watson as Kim. It won four Tony Awards including Best Musical, with Van Dyke and director/choreographer Gower Champion also winning. It was adapted into a 1963 film directed by George Sidney, starring Van Dyke, Janet Leigh as Rosie, and Ann-Margret as Kim. An ABC TV movie version was made in 1995 with Jason Alexander as Albert, Vanessa Williams as Rosie, and Chynna Phillips as Kim. In 1981 the creators wrote a sequel, Bring Back Birdie, about Albert and Rosie trying to find Birdie for a comeback TV special, with Chita Rivera re-creating her role and Donald O'Connor taking over as Albert; it was a critical and commercial disaster, lasting only four performances.

This musical contains examples of:

  • The '50s: Written in 1960, which was still in the cultural decade of the '50s. So, it's more of an affectionate parody of teen superstars and the music industry at this point.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Harry MacAfee in the 1963 movie, by a narrow margin. While quite the surly authoritarian in both the original play and in the film, in the former his behavior seems like it might be situational, as he is under duress due to Conrad Birdie's rude, pretentious behavior while a guest in his house, as well as due to the prospect of his daughter being kissed by him on television. The film, however, seems to imply that Mr. MacAfee had an unpleasant nature to begin with.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The TV movie adds in a few songs, including Mama's awesome Jewish Mother-esque lament.
  • Affectionate Parody: The whole musical takes jabs at the U.S. music industry and teen sensations.
  • Age Lift: Kim is 15 years old in the stage version, but 16 in the 1963 film, and 17 in the 1995 TV film. The Dawson Casting of 23-year-old Ann-Margret in 1963 and 27-year-old (!) Chynna Phillips in 1995 probably explains this choice.
  • The All-American Boy: The number "A Healthy, Normal American Boy" describes Conrad Birdie as this in a series of Blatant Lies.
  • Alliterative Title: Bye Bye Birdie.
  • Angry Fist-Shake: In the movie version, one dancer shakes his fist at the conductor for making the band play so fast.
  • Anti-Climax: The kiss between Kim and Conrad in the movie. It's been built up to for the whole film, but just when it's about to happen, Hugo punches Conrad in the jaw on live television and he is never seen again.
  • As Himself: Ed Sullivan in the film.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment:
    Albert: I don't desert the woman I love.
    Rosie thinks he means her and embraces him
    Rosie: Oh, Albert, I'm...I'm... sorry.
    Albert: Mama would never get over it.
    Rosie: Mama?
  • Beta Couple: Hugo and Kim. So beta that they aren't in (or even mentioned) in the sequel, Bring Back Birdie.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • It depends on which production does it (as some might actually have Hugo saying the following in perfect clarity, just rage), but we get Hugo walking on the stage, having just tried to get into a bar. The adults ask him what he just drank. "...Milk."
    • Pretty much every word spoken in "A Healthy, Normal American Boy".
  • Book Ends: The movie begins with Kim singing the title song, lamenting how dull her life will become without Conrad Birdie. At the end, she sings a rewritten version, proclaiming that she's ready to get over Birdie.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Mr. MacAfee has a very legitimate complaint with regards to Birdie essentially hijacking his family's home while a guest there. But it is also understandable that Kim, at her age, finds the prospect of being associated with the Rock 'N' Roll singer appealing. As well, she is in the process of growing up and differentiating herself from her parents, and her father could have handled the situation in a more sensitive and less domineering way than he does.
  • Brotherhood of Funny Hats: The Shriners.
  • Brown Note: The presence, or even the mere thought, of Conrad Birdie has some pretty... interesting effects on nearby fangirls, including spontaneous screaming, uncontrollable gyrating, twitching, and unconsciousness. It's even implied that the military wants to weaponize him in this way.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Kim refers to her parents by their first names, Harry and Doris.
  • Camp Straight: Harry MacAfee probably qualifies in the film, given that he's played by Paul Lynde and all. (Lynde also originated the role on Broadway.)
  • Censor Suds: In the movie, during the "Telephone" segment one girl is standing in her bathtub covered in foam.
  • Counterpoint Duet: The girls of Sweet Apple sing "We Love You, Conrad" to welcome Conrad Birdie to their town, while the boys simultaneously sing, "We Hate You, Conrad" to protest him coming and the girls' infatuation with him.
  • Creepy Changing Painting: In the movie, the photograph of Khrushchev on the wall changes facial expression during the disastrous ballet performance.
  • Cutesy Name Town: Sweet Apple. It's even lampshaded by Rosie when she picks Kim's name out of the Birdie fan file.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: The movie repurposed "Put on a Happy Face" from Albert comforting one of Birdie's fangirls to Albert entertaining Rosie. While he sings this version, he draws smiling faces in the air and creates a duplicate Rosie to dance with.
  • The Eleven Oclock Number: "Spanish Rose" was written during tryouts explicitly to give Chita Rivera one of these.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Rosie when Albert mentions that the ballet dancers moved like turtles.
  • Eye Contact as Proof: When Hugo questions whether Kim is more into Conrad than him, Kim just tells him to look at her eyes to see if she loves him. After looking deeply into her eyes, Hugo becomes completely convinced of Kim's love. For now.
  • Fainting: Almost everyone in Birdie's vicinity.
  • Fast-Forward Gag: The "rushed" ballet performance.
  • Feet-First Introduction: The camera's focus on Albert's mother in the movie. Also happens with her in later scenes.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Albert's mother marries a man she just met a day ago.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Hugo isn't exactly pleased at the idea of a superstar taking his girlfriend's first kiss.
  • Groupie Brigade: Conrad has a million-strong army of fangirls who scream bloody murder and/or faint whenever his name is spoken, pledge allegiance to Conrad Birdie, and incessantly sing the biggest earworm of the show.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Kim's father strongly disapproves of his daughter fawning over a celebrity. But when he finds out his family will get to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, he performs a song revering Ed that resembles a choral hymn.
  • "I Am" Song: "How Lovely to Be a Woman"
  • Incessant Chorus: We love you Conrad, oh yes we do, we love you Conrad, and we'll be true...
  • Invisible Backup Band: Birdie's song in the town square has no visible band.
  • "I Want" Song: "An English Teacher" and Rosie's reprise of "One Boy".
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Conrad, though his heart of gold doesn't surface at all until the final scene.
  • Jewish Mother: Mae Peterson certainly acts like a stereotypical example, although she's never implied to actually be Jewish, and the sequel Bring Back Birdie reveals that she's really of Hispanic descent.
  • Large Ham: Paul Lynde takes the cake (as always) as Henry MacAfee in the film.
  • Lingerie Scene: Rosie gets two in the film. One in a bra, and another in a very skimpy nightie.
  • Logo Joke: In the Columbia Pictures movie, some animated red flames jump out of the lady's torch and form the title.
  • Meaningful Echo: In the film, when Kim sings the title song at the beginning, she's an image of the typical teenage fangirl. At the end, when she sings the reprise, she's a wiser, more mature woman.
  • "Meet the Celebrity" Contest: The plot is that the title character, 1950s teen heartthrob Conrad Birdie, is about to take a break from his musical career to enter the military, and his manager Al is trying to figure out a sendoff that will thrill the fans. Rosie, Al's assistant/fiancée, comes up with this as the answer. Rosie pulls the name of a Birdie fan club member out of a drawer full of contact information, and it's announced that this girl, Kim, has won a secret contest to meet Birdie and kiss him goodbye before he leaves for the service. It's actually a subversion in that there was never really a contest - but no one outside of the management team knows that.
  • Mickey Mousing: In the movie during the dance of Albert with duplicate Rosie.
  • Midword Rhyme: "Put On a Happy Face"
    Wipe off that gloomy mask of tragedy
    It's not your style
    You'll look so good that you'll be glad ya de-
    cided to smile
  • Mistaken for Suicidal: Rosie "saves" Albert from jumping out of a window. In reality, he was just out there feeding his pet pigeon.
  • Movie Bonus Song: The title song. The TV movie adds "A Mother Doesn't Matter Anymore" and "A Giant Step", amongst others.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Kim and Rosie in the movie.
  • My Beloved Smother: Albert's mother. Hoo, boy. She strongly disapproves of Rosie and tries setting Albert up with another woman. She throws a fit anytime she suspects her son is becoming independent and she talks about wanting to die. In her musical number “A Mother Doesn't Matter Anymore”, she lists all the things she did for her son in an attempt to make him feel guilty for telling her that he doesn’t need her anymore.
  • My Way or the Highway: Harry MacAfee adopts this stance once having Birdie in the house becomes overwhelming. He announces: "I have tried to run this house on a democratic basis. I have extended the privilege of self-determination to both the woman I have married, and the children I have sired...Gentlemen, the democracy is over! Parliament has been dissolved; the Magna Carta is revoked, and Nero is back in town!" Soon after, he voices his objection of Birdie kissing Kim to his family; when Doris and Kim protest, he says to Kim: "This is my house and until you're eighteen...". Before he has a chance to finish his thought, Albert comes and announces that the kiss will be broadcast on the Ed Sullivan Show, prompting Mr.MacAfee to reconsider.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Conrad Birdie is definitely not Elvis Presley. No siree.note 
  • Noodle Incident:
    Kim's Father: I never told you this, but one summer I worked with the circus... all those midgets... WILD!
  • Odd Name Out: Hugo's friends are named Tommy, Eddie, Freddie, and Karl.
  • Only Sane Man: Albert has to not only write Conrad's songs, but he's also in charge of Conrad's publicity—and Conrad. Rosie could also be considered to be an Only Sane Employee because not only does she do pretty much everything Albert does, but she also has to take care of and put up with Albert and his mother.
  • Overdramatic Dating Commotion: In the song "The Telephone Hour," Hugo giving Kim his school pin is such a big deal that all the teens in town jam up the phone lines spreading the news.
  • Pelvic Thrust: Whenever Conrad Birdie showcases his iconic pelvic grinding, females faint left and right.
  • Politically Correct History: The 1995 made-for-TV remake showed Asian and black teens not only hanging with the white teens - they all appeared to live in the same neighborhood! (In real life, they would have been segregated.)
  • Product Placement: "One Boy" lists drinking Coke as one of the activities Kim suggests to Hugo that they do together. It also gets some visual plugs in the movie.
  • Pubescent Braces: The song "How Lovely to Be a Woman:''
    When you're a skinny child of fifteen, wired with braces from ear to ear,
    You doubt that you will ever be appealing.
    Then, hallelujah! You are sixteen and the braces disappear,
    And your skin is smooth and clear, and you have that happy grown-up female feeling.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The play was inspired by the hysteria that accompanied Elvis Presley's induction into the U.S. Army. Screaming fangirls and all.
  • Secondary Character Title
  • She Is All Grown Up: Kim, according to the lyrics to "How Lovely to Be a Woman", went from being a skinny girl with Pubescent Braces and A-Cup Angst and acne to the teenage hottie she is now.
  • The Show Must Go Wrong: They broadcast a live TV show so naturally things don't go as planned.
  • Sidekick Song: Though it's not in the same vein as songs like "Under the Sea", "Kids" gives the parents in the show a chance to say what they think about postwar teen culture.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Rosie gets the Russian conductor to drink the milk with "speed-up" additive.
  • Spicy Latina: Rosie.
  • Split-Screen Phone Call: Used in the movie during the "Telephone" segment.
  • Spontaneous Choreography: The town square song has people dance spontaneously in sync.
  • Squee: As you can imagine, Bye Bye Birdie is practically Squee: The Musical, given how the fangirls do it so much whenever they are onstage.
  • Standard '50s Father: Depending on your POV, Harry MacAfee is either a straight example or a bit of a deconstruction. He is of the World War II generation, the breadwinner of his nuclear family, and clearly sees himself as the head of his household, demonstrating, albeit under provocation, a rather autocratic side to his character.
  • Telephone Song: "The Telephone Hour" is a song about the characters spreading gossip that Hugo gave his fraternity pin to Kim.
  • Ur-Example: When the musical was first performed, having teenage protagonists—even as secondary to the adult leads—was quite novel.
  • When I Was Your Age...: Played for laughs in "Kids": "Why can't they be like we were,/Perfect in every way?/What's the matter with kids today?"
  • Where Did We Go Wrong?: Played for laughs with the "Kids" song.


Video Example(s):


Did You Hear About Hugo & Kim?

The kids have the phone lines jammed as the call each other about Hugo pinning Kim. And Harvey Johnson is doing his own thing.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / TelephoneSong

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