Tony Awards Winner 1961: Bye Bye Birdie

20 Mar

bye bye birdie


Frankly I was quite surprised to find that Bye Bye Birdie won the best musical for 1961, not that it wasn’t deserving–far from it, but Camelot was such a big deal I would have figured it would have been a shoo-in.   As it was, Camelot wasn’t even nominated for Best Musical.

Let me dispel one big myth about this show:  Bye Bye Birdie is often touted as the first rock and roll musical–it isn’t.   Most of the songs are standard showtune fare.   Birdie only sings a few tunes, and while he might talk and act like Elvis, he sings like Pat Boone.  Honestly, if the show was ten years earlier and starred a Frank Sinatra clone nobody would be able to tell the difference.

As a kid I loved this movie, and watched it over and over.  As an adult, I’m a little mixed.  There’s a huge difference between writing catchy songs and good songs, and quite a few songs in this show are obnoxiously catchy.  Added to that, the teenagers in this show sing in shrill squawking voices that really makes the soundtrack almost intolerable at times.  Even The Telephone Hour starts out as clever and eventually outstays its welcome.   Two songs are classics:  Put On a Happy Face, and Kids.

What I was surprised did not annoy me was Dick Van Dyke.  In the movie he drives me nuts because he’s perpetually mugging for the camera, while in the show he seems to be doing more actual acting.  Also his voice is surprisingly strong.   Chita Rivera does a decent job, though Spanish Rose is a little over the top.

All in all, only Camelot could have really given serious competition, and that show has its own share of weaknesses.   So I guess I’ll take it.  Bye Bye Birdie is rambunctious, fluffy, silly, and ultimately disposable fun.

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