How Will 'Bye Bye Birdie' Translate In 2016? The Beloved Musical Isn't Necessarily Suited For A Modern Take
Whenever a major television network announces they're doing a musical remake, I'm bamboozled with mixed feelings, and Thursday I was exceptionally attacked with feels when I heard Jennifer Lopez will be starring in a NBC's Bye Bye Birdie. No, not because I don't think that Lopez will make a good Rosie. There are a lot of beloved musicals that have been reinterpreted for a modern audience, but Bye Bye Birdie is a very, very 1960s (or late 1950s, pick one) musical. Can Bye Bye Birdie be done for a 2016 audience?
It would be fair to mention that most of the TV-adapted musicals in the last few years have been set in the past, but they're all different monsters. NBC's The Sound of Music was done with little re-touching and set far enough in the past where it's almost historical (JK, it's literally historical, since those Von Trapp's were actually real). Fox played the 1950s' pastiche Grease straight as an arrow, honoring both the stage musical and the movie alike. They definitely didn't budge with the uber rape-y line, "Did she put up a fight?" in "Summer Nights," but all and all, Grease is a kitschy classic and people tend to pardon certain aspects of that play. Bye Bye Birdie is beloved, but suffice to say, it doesn't get as many Halloween costumes each year.
Maybe a closer kin to Bye Bye Birdie is Hairspray , NBC's next live musical. It's similarly set in the early '60s, right? Yet because the source material (aka the 1988 film that inspired it) is a John Waters flick that's anchored by modern issues of race and body-shaming alike, I think it'll work well for this generation. Bye Bye Birdie has some conflicts of racism with Albert's mother not wanting him to marry the Spanish Rosie, but it's buried with a lot of teenybopper fluff.
I guess I can't rule out a "re-imagining" like Fox did with their (admittedly disastrous) take on Rocky Horror Picture Show this October. It would be interesting to see if Bye, Bye Birdie could totally be done for the iPhone generation, with those little teenyboppers texting about Kim and Hugo going steady. Except, well, do kids today even "go steady" anymore? Even being "Facebook official" seems to be an outdated practice, let alone getting "pinned." So if Bye Bye Birdie was modernized, there would have to be at least a partial lyrical re-vamp, and then it just gets messy. Also, to my knowledge, Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, or any of the scattered One Direction boys can't be drafted into the army, so what would be the exit for a 2016 Conrad Birdie? At best, this approach would be tricky, and at worst, it would be a complete disaster.
Then you have to consider that these made-for-TV musical adaptations are largely put out for the Twitter commentary, and if you're looking for some side-eye worthy songs that people will rip apart, you can't look any further than "How Lovely To Be A Woman." I mean, hey, I like wearing mascara and lipstick, but I'm not super fond of being whistled at or ... pretending that it's awesome to be female when it's 2016 and sexism is still rampant. I'm already seeing a satirical #reasonsitslovelytobeawoman hashtag in the works. Rough.
Personally I adore Bye Bye Birdie and that supersaturated technicolor look of teen life in the bobby-soxer time. But I also love it because it's a bogus look at that time, down to the beautiful Ann-Margret's "ability to be 25 and act 14," as Mad Men's Peggy Olson once put it. And unlike Hairspray or Grease, which were written with the era already in the rearview mirror, Bye Bye Birdie was written in the late 1950s for a late '50s/early '60s audience. I'm not sure if it'll work, and I really think it's fine staying as a relic. It really is.
But can it be done for a 2016 audience? I mean, it's going to be done, whether I think it'll work or not. Until then, you can go back to the '60s with NBC when Hairspray Live! debuts Dec. 7.
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