‘Bye Bye Birdie’ Mystery: The Case of the Fez Fizzle


FezAs Chris Caggiano notes on his blog, Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals (to which I still ask, “Everything, dear?”), Bye Bye Birdie was the number one tuner in the Tams-Witmark catalog for decades.

Count me in as part of the statistics: I acquitted myself admirably as Mr. Macafee during junior year of high school. (Senior year got real edgy: I played Mr. Biggley in How to Succeed…)

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So when I came across the mention, in the New York Daily News, that the Shriner’s Ballet is being cut from the revival of Bye Bye Birdie that the Roundabout Theatre Company is prepping, I was saddened. I had to read the story twice to realize that it was Gina Gershon, who is starring opposite John Stamos in the show, who explained the cut: “It seemed a little too gang rape-y.”

Aesthetically, this is nonsensical: If the Shriner’s Ballet is “too gang rape-y,” then what is “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” in “On Your Toes”? An allegory for the crimes of Pol Pot? Fortunately, in rides Caggiano:

The more likely explanation: Gershon can’t handle the dance. If they’re so concerned about modern sensibilities, will Gershon be performing the regressive and sexist “An English Teacher”? Will the chorus girls still be fawning and fainting to the salacious sight of Conrad Birdie’s gyrating hips? The show is a period piece. If you don’t like the period, don’t do the piece.

Caggiano’s a friggin’ rock star, people. Read his blog.

Oh, but wait. Director-choreographer Robert Longbottom may not be, er, Michael Bennett, but just as we do have a tradition of speak-singing in the musical theater, do we not have a tradition of non-dancers proving to be just as able as dancers? Company, for example, tasked all cast members to serve all functions, including the dance crew. Dears, if Angela Lansbury, at 83, can do a dance in the middle of Blithe Spirit, what is so hard for Gershon to do?

I suspect there may be yet one more reason here. Could it be part of the Roundabout’s efforts to ensure this is their biggest “family friendly” hit yet?