Bye Bye Birdie has found a good deal of not so innocent merriment in the younger generation, in the craze for Rock 'N' Roll, and in that apostle of Rock 'N' Roll music, Elvis Presley.
The play opens with a motion-picture montage of Conrad Birdie, singing idol of teenagers, whose resemblance to Elvis Presley cannot be regarded as accidental.
We are suddenly shifted to the office of the Almaelou Music Company in New York. Albert Peterson, its director, has just had the disconcerting news that his valuable property, Conrad Birdie, is about to be drafted into the Army. Peterson's secretary, Rose, is not sympathetic. She is convinced that this is the best thing that could happen to her employer, who can now give up the music racket, go back to college, become an English teacher and perhaps settle down with her in a little apartment. In spite of this argument, Rose has found a way to save Peterson, and pick up a good deal of publicity for Birdie. A name is picked at random from the Birdie Fan Club: Kim MacAfee, aged fifteen, sophomore at the Sweet Apple High. The gimmick is to have little Kim give Birdie his last kiss as a civilian.
In Sweet Apple, Ohio, we get a rapid look at teenagers monopolizing telephones in seemingly endless and inconsequential conversations. In her home, teenager Kim confides in song how wonderful it would be to be a full-grown woman ("How Lovely to Be a Woman") -- even while putting on an outrageously unfeminine attire of blue jeans, thick sweater and baseball cap. A telephone call now informs her she is the chosen of the select: Conrad Birdie is coming to Sweet Apple to get her good-bye kiss.
When Birdie arrives, he is, of course, welcomed by a crowd of cheering, hysterical, adulating kids. The crowd dissolves when Birdie is conducted to City Hall. Kim is left behind with Hugo, her boyfriend. The latter is upset because his girl is about to kiss somebody else. Kim does everything she can to assure him that Hugo is the boy in her life ("One Boy"). At City Hall the Mayor gives a welcoming speech to Birdie, to the accompaniment of shrieks from the youngsters. In return, Birdie gives his recipe for success ("Honestly Sincere").
The following morning the breakfast table in the MacAfee household is elaborately set in honour of their distinguished guest. When he appears he ignores all the food to partake of a can of beer. Then he quietly announces he is going back to sleep until lunchtime. Though at first considerably upset by this scene, Mr. MacAfee gets into the spirit of the whole thing when Albert Peterson tells him that Birdie and the whole MacAfee family will appear on the Ed Sullivan television show, where the historic kiss from Kim is to take place. That telecast brings the first act to a riotous conclusion. When Kim steps up to kiss Birdie an unrehearsed sequence breaks up this sentimental episode. Hugo rushes in front of the camera, denounces Birdie as a love thief and knocks him out with a well-aimed punch.
The second act, like the first, opens with a motion-picture montage. This one portrays all the possible means of disseminating news, from jungle drums to Wall Street tape.
Rose, in Kim's bedroom, is in a sentimental mood over Albert. All the same, she wonders what it is she has seen in him so long ("What Did I Ever See in Him?"). Then Rose announces that she is leaving Albert for good; at the same time little Kim decides to run away from home. As if all this were not enough to create havoc and confusion, Birdie now becomes temperamental. He is tired of the whole publicity stunt, will have nothing more to do with it and plans to step out on the town and meet some "chicks" ("A Lot of Livin' To Do"). Outside the house he meets Kim with valise in hand. He seizes her, insisting there are places for them to go and things for them to do; what he has in mind, specifically, is a quiet rendezvous in an ice-house. When Mr. MacAfee discovers that Kim has gone with Birdie he expresses both indignation over and puzzlement at the younger generation ("Kids").
Hugo and Rose have come to the town bar to forget their respective woes. Albert reaches Rose there by phone, pleading for her to listen to him ("Baby, Talk to Me"). Rose is stubborn, hangs up angrily and storms into an adjoining room, where a meeting of Shriners, a fraternal organization, is taking place. She not only breaks up their discussions with her abandoned dancing, but also sends the members scurrying for cover under the tables. In short order, Albert appears looking for Rose, and Mr. and Mrs. MacAfee for their daughter, Kim. When they all learn that Kim and Birdie are in the ice house they proceed there -- only to find that each of the two youngsters is bored stiff with the other and trying to find a way of getting away. Thus, at long last Kim and Hugo reach reconciliation. So do Albert and Rose, who plan to get married in the town of Pumpkin Falls, Iowa, and settle down to small-town life. As for Birdie, after the developments of the preceding days, army life will surely seem like a vacation.
When Bye Bye Birdie slipped rather unobtrusively into New York, it gave little promise of becoming a hit. The cast boasted no one whho could be described as having box-office appeal. Dick Gautier, in the leading role, was making his first Broadway appearance, and Dick Van Dyke, another leading performer, had never before appeared in a musical comedy. The producer was unknown. So were the librettist, lyricist and composer, all of whom were here writing their first full-length musical. And though Gower Champion was famous as a dancer and choreographer, he had never before served as a stage director. As John Chapman remarked in his review: "One of the best things about it is that practically nobody is connected with it." Yet, Bye Bye Birdie proved a smash success. It was riotously funny; it had considerable bounce and zest; it had some wonderfully imaginative dance routines; it had some good songs; and, most of all, it had the freshness, sparkle and impudence of youth. As Mr. Chapman further stated: "It is the funniest, most captivating and most expert musical comedy one could hope to see in several seasons of showgoing."
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