Which 'Bye, Bye Birdie' will you like-the movie, the play or both?

 

Ben Ludwig

Theater at the J is presenting the rock-and-roll hit musical "Bye, Bye Birdie" on Thursday Sept. 29. As a lead up to the opening, producing director Kerry Giese wanted to do something different-and gutsy-to promote the play. He is going to show the movie version of "Bye, Bye Birdie" for free on Saturday, Sept. 17, complete with popcorn and soft drinks, in The Roth Family JCC's Harriett & Hymen Lake Auditorium.

"This doesn't mean don't come see the play!" Giese quickly added. In fact, the play is very different from the movie, and that is something he wants to point out by showing the film.

The original Tony Award-winning Broadway show, written by Michael Stewart, with lyrics by Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse, opened in 1960. It is a rock-and-roll musical based, in part, on the true events that happened to Elvis Presley when he was drafted into the Army in 1957, much to the dismay of his multitude of fans. Before Presley left for Germany his managers came up with a publicity stunt in which Presley gave a selected member of the Women's Army Corps a kiss. The play follows suit, with rock-and-roll superstar Conrad Birdie (a twist on popular country singer Conway Twitty's name) giving one last kiss to a selected member of his fan club on The Ed Sullivan Show.


In the midst of the gaiety, singing and comedy, the play tells the story of a relationship that was not socially acceptable at that time. Conrad's manager, Albert Peterson, is in a longtime relationship with Rose Alvarez, who is Latino. His mother, Mae Peterson, is not happy about this and is very out-in-the-open about how she feels.

"The play is really about the relationship between Albert and Rose and not so much Conrad Birdie," Giese stated.

Why did Giese choose "Bye, Bye Birdie"?

"I want well-known musicals that people have heard of, and I want it to be family-friendly," he said. "I also like the element of youth, but the biggest reason is that I like the ones that I grew up with. My brother and I saw the movie and I thought two things: With girls who look like that-I can't wait to be a teenager! And secondly, there are so many funny moments in it, with lines my brother and I repeated for years afterwards."

The movie version came out in 1963. However, Giese points out how much society had changed in just a few years.

Most people who saw the movie will remember Ann-Margaret as the lead actor. In fact, Paul Lynde, who played the part of Mr. MacAfee onstage and in the film, said, "They should have titled it 'Hello, Ann-Margaret!'"

Giese agrees that the film does showcase Ann-Margaret, but he also points out more than that.

The film moves away from emphasis on the Peterson/Alvarez relationship (Rose's last name is changed in the movie and the part is played by a very Anglo-Saxon Janet Leigh in a dark wig.) Also missing from the film version are several songs that will be heard in the play-you'll have to see the play to find out what the movie left out! Interestingly, the familiar theme song, "Bye, Bye Birdie," was written for the film.


"Bye, Bye Birdie" introduces to Theater at the J's audiences seasoned actors Ben Ludwig, who portrays Albert Peterson; Christie Duffer as Rose Alvarez; Sara Jones as Mae Peterson; and Blake Henricks as Conrad Birdie. Returning is Tom Limbacher from Theater at the J's production of "Fiddler on the Roof." He will play the role of Harry MacAfee.

The movie version of "Bye, Bye Birdie" will be shown at The Roth Family JCC in the Harriett and Hymen Lake Auditorium on Saturday night, Sept. 17, from 7 p.m.-9 p.m. This Family Movie Night is free and open to the public.

The play performances at Theater at the J in The Roth Family JCC's Harriett & Hymen Lake Auditorium will be shown Thursdays, Sept. 29 and Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 1 and 8 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 2 at 1 p.m. and Oct. 9 at 3 p.m.

Tickets range from $10 - $20 and can be purchased at orlandojcc.org/calendar/theater-at-the-j-presents-bye-bye-birdie.

Christie Duffer

 

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