The original 1960–1961 Broadway production was a Tony Award–winning success. It spawned a London production and several major revivals, a sequel, a 1963 film, and a 1995 television production. The show also became a popular choice for high school and college productions.
The producer Edward Padula had the idea for a musical initially titled Let's Go Steady, a "happy teenage musical with a difference". Padula contracted with two writers, and Charles Strouse and Lee Adams wrote seven songs for their libretto. Padula, Strouse and Adams sought Gower Champion as director/choreographer, who until that time had choreographed only a few musicals. (Fred Astaire and Morton DaCosta had already declined.) However, Champion did not like the book and the writers were fired, with Michael Stewart then hired. Stewart wrote an early version titled Love and Kisses, which focused on a couple thinking of divorce, but whose children persuade them to stay together.
Champion wanted "something more". "The 'something more' had been right there in the newspaper. Rock-and-roll idol Elvis Presley was drafted into the army in September 1957 and soon left the US for eighteen months in Germany, provoking a media circus that included Elvis giving a specially selected member of the Women's Army Corps 'one last kiss'. After brainstorming, Stewart and Adams "came up with the idea of a rock-and-roll singer going off to the army and its effect on a group of teenagers in a small town in Ohio. The name of the singer initially was 'Ellsworth', which was soon changed to 'Conway Twitty' before we discovered there was already a Conway Twitty who was threatening to sue us, and then, finally, 'Conrad Birdie'".
Agent and songwriter Albert Peterson finds himself in trouble when hip-thrusting rock and roll superstar Conrad Birdie is drafted into the Army. Albert's secretary and sweetheart, Rose "Rosie" Alvarez, comes up with a last-ditch publicity stunt to have Conrad Birdie record and perform a song before he is sent overseas. She makes Albert promise to give up the music business and to start teaching English at schools ("An English Teacher"). They plan to have Birdie sing Albert's new song "One Last Kiss" and give one lucky girl from his fan club a real "last kiss" on The Ed Sullivan Show before going into the Army.
The lucky girl chosen randomly from Conrad's fan club is 15-year-old Kim MacAfee from Sweet Apple, Ohio. All the teenagers in Sweet Apple are catching up on the latest gossip about Kim MacAfee and Hugo Peabody going steady ("The Telephone Hour"). Kim, excited to have a boyfriend, reflects on how happy she is with her maturity ("How Lovely to Be a Woman"). She quits the Conrad Birdie fan club over the phone because of the new milestone happening in her life, and as she tells the news, her best friend Ursula is shocked. Meanwhile, Conrad, Albert, and Rose set off to Sweet Apple to prepare for the event. Before they depart by train from New York City, local teenage girls are ecstatic to meet Conrad, although one young girl is sad because she thinks that by the time Conrad gets out of the army, she will be too old for him. Albert advises her to be optimistic ("Put on a Happy Face"). Soon, reporters arrive with questions for Conrad, but Rosie, Albert, and the girls answer for him, pushing away tabloids ("Normal, American Boy"). Conrad receives a hero's welcome in Sweet Apple, and Hugo worries that Kim likes Conrad more than she likes him, but Kim assures Hugo that he is the only one she loves ("One Boy"). Conrad shocks the town's parents and drives the teenage girls crazy with his performance of "Honestly Sincere", which causes all of the girls (and the mayor's wife) to faint.
Conrad becomes a guest in the MacAfee house and irritates Kim's father, Harry MacAfee, by being a rude and selfish guest. Mr. MacAfee does not want Kim to kiss Conrad until Albert tells him their whole family will be on The Ed Sullivan Show. Mr. and Mrs. MacAfee, Kim, and her younger brother Randolph sing Sullivan's praises ("Hymn for a Sunday Evening").
Hugo senses Kim's attraction to Conrad and becomes very jealous. Albert's overbearing, interfering mother, Mae Peterson, comes to break up her son's relationship with Rosie. She introduces Albert to Gloria Rasputin, a curvy blonde she met on the bus who could replace Rosie as his secretary. Gloria hopes that if she helps Albert with papers, he can get Gloria into show business, as she is a tap dancer. Mae sings "Swanee River" as Gloria tap dances (usually depicted as her making a fool of herself) and ends doing a split. Unfortunately, she needs a little help getting up from her stance. Albert gives her a job to type up some revenues, and Rosie is furious but hides it from Albert.
Rosie, jealous and angry, dreams of violent ways to murder Albert ("One Hundred Ways Ballet"). Rosie and Hugo plot to ruin the broadcast. Conrad sings on The Ed Sullivan Show ("One Last Kiss"), and as he leans in to kiss Kim, Hugo runs onstage and punches him in the face. On live television, Conrad faints, Rosie breaks up with Albert, and Albert, trying to cover for the mishaps of the evening, leads a chorus of "Normal American Boy".
Despite plans to re-film the broadcast, Rosie and Kim resolve to leave Albert and Hugo, lamenting their stupidity for having fallen in love with the boys ("What Did I Ever See in Him?"). Rosie leaves the MacAfee house, and Kim plans to go with her, but her father doesn't let her. Kim sneaks out of the house and joins the Sweet Apple teens. Conrad decides he wants to go out and have a good time on his last night as a civilian and encourages the teens to party ("A Lot of Livin' to Do"). Conrad, Kim, and all the teenagers, except Hugo, head for the Ice House (where people go when they want to be alone) to party without adult supervision. Hugo goes to Maude's Roadside Retreat, hoping to get drunk, but proprietor Charles F. Maude can tell that he's under age and refuses to serve him.
When Mr. MacAfee discovers Kim has run away, he and Mrs. MacAfee lament how disobedient kids are today ("Kids"). Rosie ends up at Maude's Roadside Retreat and starts hitting on other men, but Albert calls her on the telephone and begs her to return to him ("Baby, Talk to Me"). Rosie, hoping to forget Albert, interrupts a Shriners meeting being held in Maude's private dining room. She flirts with all the Shriners, and they begin a wild dance. Hugo and Albert rescue Rosie from the crazed Shriners, and Albert finally stands up to his mother, telling her to go home. Mae becomes so upset that she leaves, but not before heavily dramatizing the sacrifices she made for him. ("A Mother Doesn't Matter Anymore.") Hugo tells the MacAfees and the other parents that the teenagers have gone to the Ice House, and they all declare that they don't know what's wrong with their kids ("Kids Reprise"). Randolph joins in, stating that his older sister and the other teens are "so ridiculous and so immature".
The adults and the police arrive at the Ice House and arrest Conrad, although he doesn't appear to have done anything illegal. Kim claims she was intimidated by Conrad and gladly returns to Hugo. After a reconciliation with Albert, Rosie tells Albert's mother, Mae, that she will marry Albert despite Mae's racist objections, and to irritate her, declares she's Spanish ("Spanish Rose") with deliberate comic exaggeration. Albert bails Conrad out of jail and arranges for him to sneak out of town dressed as a middle-aged woman—presumably so he can report for Army induction as scheduled. Albert gets his mother to leave Sweet Apple bound for home on the same train, getting Conrad and his mother out of his life for good. Albert tells Rosie they're not going back to New York; they're going to Pumpkin Falls, Iowa, a small town in need of a (married) English teacher. Albert professes that everything is rosy with Rosie ("Rosie"), and they go off together happily engaged as Rosie had always dreamed.Albert Peterson: Conrad Birdie's manager, who formerly aspired to be an English teacherRose "Rosie" Alvarez: Albert's secretary and long-suffering girlfriendKim MacAfee: A teenage girl from Sweet Apple, who is chosen to receive the "one last kiss" from Conrad BirdieConrad Birdie: A 1950s rock and roll star inspired by Elvis PresleyRandolph MacAfee: Kim's well-behaved younger brotherMr. MacAfee: Kim and Randolph's befuddled and bad-tempered fatherMrs. MacAfee: Kim and Randolph's motherMae Peterson: Albert's overbearing, prejudiced motherHugo Peabody: Kim's boyfriend or "steady", who is jealous of ConradUrsula Merkle: Kim's hyperactive best friend, a Conrad Birdie enthusiastGloria Rasputin: A curvaceous tap dancer who hopes to be Albert's new secretary, whom Mae brings to Albert, hoping he will choose her over RosieHelen, Alice, Deborah Sue, Nancy, Penelope, Suzie, Margie: Sweet Apple teenagers who are friends of Kim's, and Conrad Birdie enthusiasts; they perform solos in "Telephone Hour"Harvey Johnson: A nerdy teenage boy who performs a few parts in "Telephone Hour"Fred and Karl: Sweet Apple teenagersMaude: Owner of Maude's Roadside Retreat, second tenor in male quartet, and member of the adult ensembleMrs. Merkle: Ursula's motherMr. Johnson: Harvey's fatherThe Mayor: The mayor of Sweet AppleThe Mayor's Wife (Edna): The repressed wife of the mayor; she comedically faints multiple times during Conrad Birdie's performance of "Honestly Sincere"Dishwasher/Bar Patrons: Three members of the quartet, with Maude; they perform solos in "Baby, Talk to Me"ReportersPolicemenEd Sullivan: The host of the Ed Sullivan Show (unseen character onstage; appears in film)
(Note: Based on Original Broadway Production, 1960)
In New York, the Broadway production opened on April 14, 1960, at the Martin Beck Theatre, transferring to the 54th Street Theatre and then the Shubert Theatre, closing on October 7, 1961, after 607 performances. The show was produced by Edward Padula and directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, with orchestrations by Robert Ginzler, scenic design by Robert Randolph, costumes by Miles White and lighting by Peggy Clark.
The original Broadway cast included Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera, Paul Lynde, Dick Gautier, Susan Watson, Kay Medford, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Michael J. Pollard. Reilly understudied as Albert Peterson for Van Dyke, who periodically took time off (including a two-week hiatus to film the pilot episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show) and returned to the leading role. During pre-production, Chita Rivera took the role of Rosie after both Carol Haney and Eydie Gorme turned it down, and the character's last name was changed from "Grant" to "Alvarez". Replacements during the run included Gene Rayburn as Albert and Gretchen Wyler as Rosie, both of whom joined the cast on April 9, 1961.
The musical played in July 1961 at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium as part of the 1961 season of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. After a two-and-a-half-week pre-run tryout at the Opera House, Manchester the show opened in London's West End. In London, the musical opened in the West End at Her Majesty's Theatre in June 1961, with Peter Marshall as Albert, Rivera reprising her role as Rosie, Angela Baddeley as Mae and Marty Wilde as Conrad Birdie. That production ran for 268 performances.
In 1981, there was a short-lived Broadway sequel, Bring Back Birdie, starring Donald O'Connor and returning original cast member Chita Rivera. It closed after 31 previews and four performances.
A U.S. tour from mid-1990 through June 1991 starred Tommy Tune as Albert, Ann Reinking as Rosie, Marc Kudisch as Conrad, Marcia Lewis as Mrs. Peterson, Steve Zahn as Hugo, and Susan Egan as Kim.
The New York City Center Encores! staged concert production ran in May 2004, with Karen Ziemba as Rosie, Daniel Jenkins as Albert, Jessica Grové as Kim, and Bob Gaynor as Conrad.
An abridged version of Bye Bye Birdie was presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, October 2–5, 2008, as part of its Broadway: Three Generations production. Laura Osnes played Kim and Leslie Kritzer played Rosie.
The Roundabout Theatre Company's limited-run Broadway revival began previews at Henry Miller's Theatre on September 10, 2009, opened to unanimously negative reviews on October 15, 2009, and was scheduled to close January 10, 2010 before it was extended until April 25, 2010. Due to poor advance sales after the departures of lead actors John Stamos and Gina Gershon's contracts, the closing date was moved up by three months to January 24, 2010. Robert Longbottom was the director-choreographer, with Stamos and Gershon starring as Albert and Rosie, Bill Irwin as Harry MacAfee, Jayne Houdyshell as Mrs. Mae Peterson, Nolan Gerard Funk as Conrad, Allie Trimm as Kim MacAfee and Matt Doyle as Hugo Peabody.
Although Longbottom spoke extensively about how the show was being revised and refined for the revival, there were no interpolations from the film or TV adaptations of the show barring the title tune written for the film, which was used as a finale.
Bye Bye Birdie was first adapted for film in 1963. It starred Dick Van Dyke reprising his stage role as a slightly rewritten Albert Peterson, Maureen Stapleton as Mama Mae Peterson, Janet Leigh as Rosie, Paul Lynde reprising his stage role as Mr. MacAfee, Bobby Rydell as Hugo Peabody, and Ann-Margret as Kim MacAfee. Jesse Pearson played Conrad Birdie. Ed Sullivan makes a guest appearance as himself. The film is credited with making Ann-Margret a superstar during the mid-1960s, leading to her appearing with the real Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas (1964). The film ranked number 38 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.
Several significant changes were made in the plot and character relationships in the film version. Albert is not Birdie's agent but a talented research chemist who is struggling as a songwriter only to please his overbearing mother. He contributed to Birdie's initial success, and therefore Birdie "owes" him a favor. The film version includes an additional character, a suave English teacher who flirts with Rosie. She plays up to him in several scenes after Albert has made her angry by caving in to his mother. The positioning and context of several songs were changed as well. "An English Teacher", "Normal American Boy", "One Hundred Ways", "What Did I Ever See In Him?", "Baby, Talk To Me", and "Spanish Rose", were omitted from the film. "Kids" was performed in the MacAfee kitchen by Mr. MacAfee, Mama Mae Peterson, Albert, and Randolph. "Put On A Happy Face" is performed by Albert and Rosie in the MacAfees' back yard; "A Lot of Livin' To Do" was performed by Conrad, Kim, and Hugo at a teen dance; and "Rosie" is sung at the end of show by Albert, Rosie, Hugo, and Kim. Kim also opens and closes the film version singing the title song, "Bye Bye, Birdie", a song written for the film. The film version ends on a brighter and lighter note than the stage musical. When Hugo punches Conrad, knocking him out with a single punch "live" on The Ed Sullivan Show, he wins Kim's heart, and the young couple is reunited. Albert's mother shows up after the broadcast with Charles F. Maude (the bartender), informs Albert and Rosie that she has married him, and gives Albert and Rosie her blessing for their long-postponed wedding.
Van Dyke was unhappy with the film adaptation due to the focus shift to Kim (Ann-Margret). He has stated that Birdie was "a romp'" on Broadway, but they "Hollywood-ized" the movie. "They made it a vehicle for Ann-Margret." Paul Lynde, who played Mr. MacAfee on stage and in the film, later quipped "They should have retitled it 'Hello, Ann-Margret!' They cut several of my and the other actors' best scenes and shot new ones for her so she could do her teenage-sex-bombshell act." Susan Watson, who created the role of Kim on Broadway, later said, "Anyone who likes the film didn't see the show." In January 2009, Adam Shankman signed on to develop and produce a remake.
A TV-movie adaptation was produced for ABC in 1995 by RHI Entertainment. It starred Jason Alexander in the role of Albert and Vanessa Williams as Rosie. Tyne Daly played Mae Peterson. Marc Kudisch, who played Conrad Birdie on tour opposite Tommy Tune, reprised the role. Chynna Phillips played Kim MacAfee, Sally Mayes played Mrs. MacAfee and George Wendt played Harry MacAfee. While this version remained mostly faithful to the original musical (Michael Stewart remains the only credited author of this version), several songs were added and re-arranged, and dialogue was slightly rewritten to smoothly facilitate the musical changes. The title song "Bye Bye Birdie", written for the 1963 film and sung by Ann-Margret, is re-arranged and rewritten as a quintet for Ursula and the Sweet Apple Birdie fan club girls at the soda shop. The verse of "One Boy" that Rosie sings was replaced with "Let's Settle Down". The "How to Kill a Man" ballet was cut. "What Did I Ever See in Him?" is given a reprise sung by Albert, called "What Did I Ever See in Her?". The song "Baby, Talk to Me" returns to the show. "Spanish Rose" is moved to earlier in the story. "A Mother Doesn't Matter Anymore", sung by Mae Peterson, has always been part of the stage productions but was cut from the 1963 film. Albert tells Rosie how he has finally broken free of his overbearing mother In "A Giant Step". This song was written for the 1990 US tour.
On October 27, 2016 it was announced that Jennifer Lopez will star in NBC's Bye Bye Birdie Live as Rose "Rosie" Alvarez and executive produce with her producing partners Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Benny Medina alongside film, TV, and live musical executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. The live television musical was initially announced to premiere in December 2017, but on May 25, 2017, it was announced that it would be pushed to sometime in 2018 to accommodate Lopez's busy schedule.
The original production of Bye Bye Birdie opened to mostly positive reviews, with several critics marveling at the unexpected success of a musical crafted by an inexperienced production team. John Champman of the New York Daily News called it "the funniest, most captivating, and most expert musical comedy one could hope to see ... the show is pure, plain musical comedy, with jokes, dancing, oddball costumes ... exceptionally catching orchestrations ... and a completely enthusiastic cast." He noted that "one of the best things about it is that practically nobody is connected to it. Who ever heard of Edward Padula ... Charles Strouse and Lee Adams ... Gower Champion?"
Frank Aston of the New York World-Telegram & Sun declared Bye Bye Birdie "the peak of the season" and especially liked Chita Rivera as Rosie: "Chita Rivera ... is triumphant as dancer, comic, and warbler." In the New York Daily Mirror, Robert Coleman wrote that "Edward Padula put over a sleeper in the Broadway sweepstakes, and it's going to pay off in big figures ... Rivera explodes like a bomb over West 45th Street. Michael Stewart has penned a sassy and fresh book, while Lee Adams and Charles Strouse have matched it with tongue-in-cheek lyrics and music."
New York Herald Tribune critic Walter Kerr praised Gower Champion's direction but criticized the libretto and score, stating that "Mr. Champion has been very much responsible for the gayety (sic), the winsomeness, and the exuberant zing of the occasion ... he has not always been given the very best to work with ... every once in a while, Michael Stewart's book starts to break down and cry ... Lee Adams's lyrics lean rather heavily on the new "talk-out-the-plot" technique, and Charles Strouse's tunes, though jaunty, are whisper-thin." Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times conceded that "the audience was beside itself with pleasure" but dryly stated that "this department was able to contain itself. Bye Bye Birdie is neither fish, fowl, nor good musical comedy. It needs work."The Original Broadway Cast recording was released by Columbia Masterworks (1960).The Original London Cast recording was released by Decca Records (1961).Bye Bye Birdie: All the Great Songs Recorded by Bobby Rydell was released by Cameo Records (1962).Studio Cast Recording featuring James Darren, Shelley Fabares, Paul Petersen and the Marcels was released by Colpix Records (1963).The film soundtrack featured Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh, Ann-Margret, Bobby Rydell, Paul Lynde and Jessee Pearson, released by RCA Victor (1964).The television soundtrack was released by RCA Records (1995) featuring Vanessa L. Williams, Jason Alexander and Marc Kudisch.