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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.


Bye Bye Birdie was most successfully adapted as a 1963 film directed by George Sidney, starring Dick Van Dyke as Albert (reprising his original Broadway role), Janet Leigh as Rosie, and Ann-Margret as Kim. A TV movie version was made in 1995 with Jason Alexander as Albert, Vanessa Williams as Rosie, and Chynna Phillips as Kim.

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.
  • 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.
  • The All-American Boy: The number "A Healthy, Normal American Boy" describes Conrad Birdie as this in a series of Blatant Lies.
  • Advertisement:
  • Alliterative Title: Bye Bye Birdie.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Most people assume Conrad Birdie is entirely an Elvis caricature, but his name is actually a parody of Conway Twitty, one of Elvis’ main rock-and-roll rivals in the '50's. He is much better remembered today as either a country performer or a non sequitur gag, depending on one’s generation.
  • 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?
  • Bare Your Midriff: Kim dons a spectacular ruffled crop top in the movie.
  • 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".
  • Bookends: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • First-Name Basis: Kim refers to her parents by their first names, Harry and Doris.
  • 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.
  • Large Ham: Paul Lynde takes the cake as always 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.
  • 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.
  • Nerd: Harvey Johnson
  • 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.
  • Pelvic Thrust: Whenever Conrad Birdie showcases his iconic pelvic grinding, females faint left and right.
  • Playing Gertrude: In the film, Albert's mother is played by Maureen Stapleton, who was only a few months older than Dick Van Dyke.
  • 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: This happens a lot of times with the fangirls.
  • 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.
  • Where Did We Go Wrong?: Played for laughs with the "Kids" song.