Scan a list of titles from the American musical theater and you'll discover the vast majority were inspired by or based on plays, novels and films. The original musical, in contrast, is a rare property, one that features a new story devised by its creators.
Rarer still are original musicals that earned critical praise. That abbreviated list includes “Avenue Q,” “A Chorus Line,” “City of Angels” and “Company.” In contrast, “Pardon My English,” “Allegro,” “Fade Out — Fade In,” “Anyone Can Whistle,” and “Steel Pier” proved that even the most capable practitioners of this distinctly American art form — George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, and Kander and Ebb, respectively — didn't always achieve success.
Lyric Theatre opens its 50th season this week with another original musical, but unlike the failures mentioned above, “Bye Bye Birdie” became a tremendous success when it opened in 1960. With a score by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, “Birdie” is fondly remembered for its hits “Put On a Happy Face” and “A Lot of Livin' to Do.”
This marks Lyric's third outing with “Birdie,” the story of a popular singer who's drafted into the Army. Conrad Birdie's promoters decide to capitalize on that event by having the good-looking singer bestow a kiss on a member of his teen fan club before reporting to boot camp.
The Lyric production features David Elder as Albert Peterson, Kat Nejat as Rose Alvarez, Eric Ulloa as Conrad Birdie and Charlotte Franklin as Mae Peterson. Lyn Cramer directs and choreographs. David Andrews Rogers is music director.
Elder and Nejat have 10 Broadway credits between them, the former having appeared in “42nd Street” and “Titanic,” and Nejat in “Lysistrata Jones” and “West Side Story.” We spoke early in their rehearsal process which meant they hadn't yet gotten through the entire show.
“This is a brand new show for me so I'm trying to absorb it as it's coming,” Elder said. “Before I make any decisions (about characterization), I want to see the picture that I'm in first. I sort of want to ride the wave and discover where I fit into the whole story.”
Nejat was eager to tackle her character's featured number, the wildly humorous and show-stopping “Shriners' Ballet.” In it, Rose crashes a local Shriners' meeting and proves that her fiery temperament and feminine wiles can create plenty of excitement.