Bye Bye Birdie was originally a popular Broadway production and Tony award winner in the early 1960’s. In 1963, the play was adapted to film, starring Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh. Ann-Margret and rock n’ roll singer, Bobby Rydell, also star in the musical comedy. Director George Sidney and Producer Fred Kohlmar created a film that is perfect for the whole family to watch. Bye Bye Birdie is funny, intelligent, and heartfelt. The music is memorable and catchy, and the portrayal of the high school teens in early 1960’s America is so innocent that some of the younger viewers might catch themselves chuckling.
The idea for the play and the film came from the meteoric rise of Elvis Presley and his draft into the army. The movie was supposed to really highlight Van Dyke and Leigh, but Ann- Margret was so captivating with her red hair, beauty, and charisma that she became the focus in the movie. In fact, the opening and closing numbers for the movie were added because of Ann-Margret’s captivating personality.
The plot of the movie centers around the rock n’ roll star Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) and his draft into the military. Young girls all over the country are losing their minds that they are losing Birdie. Struggling music writer Albert (Van Dyke) and his girlfriend, Rosie (Leigh), decide that they must find a way to convince Ed Sullivan to have Birdie perform his farewell show and sing one of Albert’s songs. Rosie suggests that one lucky girl will be chosen to get a kiss from the rock legend before he heads off to the military. The young woman who wins the contest is a high school girl named Kim McAfee (Ann-Margret). To say that Kim is elated would be an understatement, but her boyfriend, Hugo (Rydell), is less than pleased. He is bound and determined to stop her from getting swept away by the rock star.
Everyone involved pins their hopes and dreams on Birdie’s final appearance. Albert dreams that this will ignite his career, and Rosie hopes that Albert will ask to marry her after he achieves the success he needs. Kim basks in her sudden popularity as Sweet Apple, Ohio’s darling. However, ideas don’t always go according to plan. Albert’s intrusive mother repeatedly undermines his relationship with Rosie. Birdie’s wild behavior and hard partying upset the McAfee family and alarm the small town of Sweet Apple.
While the storyline isn’t particularly complex or unique, the music in this film is brilliant. Composed by Charles Strouse with lyrics by Lee Adams, every song is either touching or funny. “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” is one of the sexiest numbers without being raunchy. The audience gets a taste of both Birdie’s and Kim’s undeniable onscreen charisma. One of the most comical numbers is “Kids,” with Kim’s father and Albert’s mother commiserating about the “sacrifices” they make for their ungrateful children. Comedian Paul Lynde played the role of Kim’s father, Harry McAfee. Lynde’s comic timing make his character memorable even though it’s a much smaller role. Maureen Stapleton performed the role of Albert’s mother, though in reality Stapleton was only about five months older than Dick Van Dyke. Like Lynde, Stapleton is unforgettable in her role as the intrusive and manipulative mother. Truly, there are no insignificant roles in this movie because there are no wasted scenes. Every line has a purpose and contributes to the larger story.Bye Bye Birdie didn’t set any records or make history, but a great film doesn’t have to be number one. The movie had a fun story, a great cast, and incredible music. Sometime a good film is one that provides a temporary escape from the doldrums of reality. Though the world looks much different now than it did in the early ‘60s, Bye Bye Birdie will probably remain relevant for long time because it’s great entertainment.