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Bye Bye Birdie

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The Writing of Bye Bye Birdie

Commentary and writing tips by Noel Katz

Once, on the Sid Caesar television show from the 1950s, they did a song called "You Are So Rare. "Sid spoofed the way the then-new rock and roll singers of the time would split syllables with a catch in their voices. "You-ou ar-ar so-o ra-are. "It was a funny gag and Bye Bye Birdie went even further in One Last Kiss. "Gi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-iv me one last kiss. "The joke is the same: those young singers recording the songs teenagers listen to sure sound funny.

One of Sid Caesar's television writers, Michael Stewart, wrote the book to Bye Bye Birdie . It was the first of his many hit shows, including Hello Dolly and Forty-Second Street. Bye Bye Birdie was also the maiden voyage for its songwriters, Strouse and Adams, and its director, Gower Champion. First efforts rarely turn out as wonderfully. But Stewart had all that comedy-writing experience, Champion had danced in MGM musicals, and Strouse & Adams had written for the adult summer camp shows that nurtured so much talent in the middle of the century. The show's biggest hit, "Put On a Happy Face," was written for one of those camp revues.

In a sense, Bye Bye Birdie is the first rock musical. For that's what Birdie is, a rock star, singing nonsensical rhythm numbers like "Honestly Sincere" and making entire towns faint. The show finds much of its humor in cross-cultural and cross-generation confrontations. Parents can't understand their children. Small town folk can't understand New Yorkers. And, somehow, the plot has them all sharing the same house. Even the New York protagonist's mother shows up, and, at one point, she tries to seduce the rock star.

It's when the rock star is heading out on the town with those teenagers that the two cultures combine into the song I find most effective. Strouse marks the tempo of "A Lot of Living To Do" with a steady growing drive. The accompaniment starts with some short bass notes; when the singer enters, it's at three staccato chords per measure. After the title is first stated, we're up to four chords per measure, and the bridge gives us eight, with accents on the first, fourth and seventh. After the bridge, it's up to nine chords per measure. It's a great example of building excitement.

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Bye Bye Birdie DVDCover Bye Bye Birdie (DVD) from Amazon.com Original 1963 motion picture based on the musical play. Starring Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh, Ann-Margret, and Maureen Stapleton.

Cast Recordings

Bye Bye Birdie Original Cast Cover Bye Bye Birdie (1960 Original Broadway Cast) from Amazon.com Remastered from the original cast album with extra tracks of composer Charles Strouse singing "Put on a Happy Face". Songs include: Overture, An English Teacher, The Telephone Hour, How Lovely To Be A Woman, Put On A Happy Face, A Healthy, Normal, American Boy, One Boy, Honestly Sincere, Hymn For A Sunday Evening (Ed Sullivan), One Last Kiss, What Did I Ever See In Him?, A Lot Of Livin' To Do, Kids, Baby, Talk To Me, Kids Reprise, Spanish Rose, Rosie, and Put On A Happy Face (Performed by Charles Strouse)

Bye Bye Birdie (1963 Film Soundtrack) from Amazon.com Remasterd reissue of the soundtrack. Songs include: Bye Bye Birdie, Opening Credits, Telephone Hour, How Lovely to Be a Woman, We Love You Conrad [Film Version], Honestly Sincere, Hymn for a Sunday Evening, One Boy, Put On a Happy Face, Kids, One Last Kiss [Gym Rehearsal Outtake], Lot of Livin' to Do, Sultans' Ballet [Film Version], One Last Kiss, Rosie, and Bye Bye Birdie (Reprise)

Sheet Music

"Put on a Happy Face" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"The Telephone Hour" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"One Boy" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"An English Teacher" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

Bye Bye Birdie: Vocal Score from Amazon.com

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