NBC has announced that its live holiday musical for 2017 will be the golden oldie Bye Bye Birdie starring Jennifer Lopez. I was surprised to see the announcement before the airing of this year’s event, Hairspray, in December, but I don’t blame them for wanting to get the word out. It’s a terrific choice — an upbeat family musical with a familiar title, a great score (including several standards), a good range of wacky characters, an Elvis spoof and a nostalgic portrait of uncomplicated life in small-town America. It is set roughly in the same period as Grease and Hairspray, the two live musicals that immediately preceded it (albeit on different networks) — the late 50s and early 60s are a hot time these days, I guess, not to mention high school life. The show was apparently proposed by Lopez herself, evidently a fan of the (rather altered) movie. Hooray for her.
The show has not fared well in recent years: productions on Broadway and the Encores! revival series were not well received, and the last televised version some 20 years ago (with Jason Alexander and Vanessa Williams) was a disaster. Still, these live productions are a different experience entirely, and the energy of a live broadcast seems right for Birdie, with its predominantly young cast and rock-and-roll setting. Also, a live appearance on a TV variety show is an important plot point.
They’re going to have to update the script, especially some of the dodgy Hispanic references that might be too much for these delicate times. That should be no problem with the ultra-PC Harvey Fierstein handling the rewriting. And with Lopez in the Hispanic (actually Hispanic-American) role — played in the original by the estimable Chita Rivera — they might be able to salvage the song “Spanish Rose”. It will be interesting to see how that is handled.
Given that this is NBC, I’m sure somebody must be plotting to turn Ed Sullivan into Jimmy Fallon (not too difficult — ♪ Jim Fa-a-lon). Don’t know how they’ll squeeze that into the late-50s setting, but I’d believe anything.
It’s fun that the big special events next year will begin with Hello (Dolly!) and end with Bye Bye (Birdie), both tuneful and innocent shows with big production numbers, colorful characters and not much more on their minds than sheer entertainment. Can’t wait.
UPDATE: I see where one writer is objecting to a lyric in the song “How Lovely To Be A Woman”: