Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Bye, Bye Birdie" is an Exceptional Musical Adaptation

There have been many successful Broadway-to-film transitions made in the last six decades; Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music, to name a few. As you, the reader, may know by now, I am a fan of a musical. But it has to have a good story behind it. While this story isn't exactly original (it was based on Elvis Presley's drafting into the army), the music is toe-tapping and the cast, for the most part, is excellent.

Dick Van Dyke reprises his stage role as Albert Peterson, a chemist turned song writer at the behest of his over-bearing mother, Mae (played by Maureen Stapleton). The work has dried up, and his secretary Rosie (played by Janet Leigh), is hoping for a marriage proposal. But Albert is reluctant. He wants his work to pick up, and he wants the approval of his dear mother. Enter Conrad Birdie, an Elvis-esque rock-star who has been drafted. Upon hearing the news, Rosie develops a plan to help Albert revive his career. He is to write a song for Conrad, called "One Last Kiss", at the end of which, Conrad is to kiss a lucky young fan. Enter the town of Sweet Apple, Ohio and the McAfee family. Young Kim McAfee (played by Ann-Margret, who would later star with the real Elvis Presley) is Conrad Birdie's number one fan. This film launched Ann's career, and, for a time, type-cast her into the certain type of sweet and sultry roles. Kim's father, played by Paul Lynde (who also reprises his original Broadway role) is understandably reluctant. That is until he finds out that the big event is to take place on the "Ed Sullivan Show", one that he greatly adores. Sullivan makes a cameo as himself. Sweet Apple is turned on it's ear, as news of Conrad Birdie's "One Last Kiss" spreads like wild fire.

For me, when I watch a musical, I don't watch it as such. I watch it as I would any other film. To me, the music and the score is secondary. The story, the acting, chemistry between the actors, and how well an actor can perform in a musical without coming across to the viewer as being uncomfortable doing so is paramount. Dick Van Dyke is a natural in a musical setting. This was one of his first films. After winning the Tony Award for his performance in the stage production, he was undoubtedly a natural choice to reprise the role in the film. Ann Margret, with this also being one of her first films, is also very natural. The fact that she's absolutely stunning and easy to look at certainly helps as well. With the exception of Paul Lynde, the rest of the cast seems like they don't really know what to do in a musical setting, and they seem a little uneasy. I would admittedly be a little intimidated by the prospect of being in a musical. But I would approach it as I do when I watch them. I would approach doing a musical as I would any other film. The most important thing for an actor to do, in any role, in any genre, is to understand that particular character, and once they do that, they come off believable, and more importantly, likable to the rest of us, the viewers.

One thing a film cannot do, and especially a musical film, is to pair an entire cast of actors which their audience wouldn't want to see in such a setting with a hard to follow story-line. "Moulin Rouge" to me is one of the worst offenders. I can't say I really care that Nicole Kidman's character is sick, or that Ewan MacGregor's character is in love with her character. Both Kidman and MacGregor are excellent actors in their own rights, but under different circumstances. Their respective agents obviously had no idea what it was they were getting their clients into. The story is so convoluted, it's frustrating. But, I digress. "Bye Bye Birdie" is not such a musical. It's well done and entertaining.

Despite the casting hiccups in this film, it's very enjoyable, and one that I recommend.

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