Bring Back Birdie is a musical with a book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse.
A sequel to Bye Bye Birdie, it focuses on a scheme for rock 'n' roller Conrad Birdie, who disappeared after being discharged from the army twenty years ago, to make a comeback on a Grammy Awards broadcast.
After 31 previews, the Broadway production, conceived and directed by Joe Layton, opened on March 5, 1981 at the Martin Beck Theatre, where it ran for only four performances. The cast included Donald O'Connor, Chita Rivera, Maurice Hines, and Maria Karnilova. Rivera was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical and a Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Actress in a Musical.
An original cast album was released on the Varese Sarabande label.
As the house lights dim, we hear a woman's voice telling us, in story-teller-lady fashion: "Once upon a time, so long ago that New York City hadn't even been bankrupt once, there lived a young man in the music business named Albert Peterson, who loved his secretary, Rose. His only client, a rock-n-roll idol known as Conrad Birdie, was being drafted into the army, and Rose wanted Albert to give up the music business, marry her, and become - an English teacher! Alas, Albert's mother - a frail and gentle old lady with many of the same endearing qualities as Snow White's stepmother-opposed the match. But love triumphed, Conrad vanished, the mother was banished, Albert married his Rose and became an English teacher and they all lived happily ever after. [Ominous chord.) Till now."
After the (OVERTURE), we see two shadowy figures in a darkened room, and, after Albert finds the light switch, we learn that Rose and Albert are burglarizing their old office, looking for the contract, that will put them on the trail of Conrad Birdie. It seems that Birdie disappeared 18 years ago, and Albert has been offered twenty thousand dollars if he can track down his former client and get him to perform on a TV Grammy Award special along with other giant recording stars of yesterday. Albert has accepted the challenge, eager to return to the music business, and Rose is unhappy about it. "Albert," she pleads, "if NBC wants Conrad, let them find him! We have too much at stake!" And Rosie sings (TWENTY HAPPY YEARS). Albert is almost convinced. Then Mtobe, the fly-by-night detective who is the office's current tenant, appears, and to Rose's disgust finds the old contract. "Rose," Albert yells excitedly, "Look! 'Engagement between Conrad Birdie and the El Coyote Club, Bent River Junction, Arizona, April 8, 1962' Rose, we've got packing to do. I want to start for Arizona tomorrow!" Poor Rose! It looks like her peaceful days in Forest Hills are over.
Now, in Forest Hills, we meet Jenny, the Peterson's 16-year-old daughter, and Albert Jr., 14, a budding guitarist. In (MOVIN' OUT) and (HALF OF A COUPLE) we learn that Jenny has her own plan for leaving home. Next we see Rose in the Peterson Kitchen, contentedly doing her housewifely chores laden with boxes of "Cheer," "Joy," and "Yes." Her song (I LIKE WHAT I DO), becomes an ironical commentary as her children, her husband, and even Detective Mtobe each deliver a bombshell.
Rose reluctantly agrees to help Albert find Conrad, but . . ."only ten days, that's it! And no Guatamala, no SoHo, and no Mamma! And to make absolutely certain, I'm sending you kids to cousin Alice's in New Jersey while we're away."
Instantly we're in the bus terminal. Albert has arranged "a spontaneous demonstration by the youth of America demanding the return of Conrad Birdie." Mtobe, who will do anything for a fee, appears to sing (BRING BACK BIRDIE) the song Albert has written for the occasion. Rose and Albert board their bus to Tucson, believing that Jenny and Albert Jr. are on their but to Cousin Alice's. Instead, Jenny, angry that her mother has vetoed her plan to live with her boyfriend, is intrigued by a saffron-robed lady, who says, "Come march with the Reverend Sun, sister, and find fulfillment." Jenny does. And her brother joins a punk rock band and takes off to fulfill his destiny.
We move to the black desert rear Bent River Junction, Arizona. While Rose struggles with their luggage, Albert assures her (BABY, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME).
They find the El Coyote Club, a noisy Western saloon, site of Conrad's last gig, and the bartender turns out to be Mae Peterson, Albert's long-lost mother, who, true to form, insults Rose at every opportunity. Mae seems to know something about Conrad's whereabouts, so Albert leaves with her to consult "her files." Rose has a drink with the resident cowboys and explains why she puts up with Albert in (A MAN WORTH FIGHTIN' FOR). After Rose does a rousing dance with the boys, Albert returns to report that Mayor C. B. Townsend might be able to help in the search.
The next scene is in the office of the Mayor, a dignified, paunchy Western politician. No, he can't recall Mr. Birdie-is that the name? He is sorry to cut the interview short, but he must meet with the Citizen's Committee to draft him for the Senate. As Albert and Rose turn to leave, the Mayor burps. Albert rushes back into the office. Could it be? It is. And we find out why as the Mayor sings (YOU CAN NEVER GO BACK).
But Albert manages to convince Conrad to try a comeback. They book him to appear at a rock concert the following night at University Stadium, and manage to cram the corpulent Conrad into the old gold suit and shove him onstage, where he begins one of his old numbers. But the 1981 kids boo him off the stage - they've come to hear the new punk rock group, "Filth", and don't want a 1962 retread like Birdie. Conrad, hurt, runs out. Meanwhile, Rose has learned that her children are not at Cousin Alice's and is worried. Her concern deepens when she discovers that "Filth's" guitarist, disquised in pink hair and dark glasses, is Albert Jr.! Grabbing her son and interrupting the concert, Rose angrily tells Alber she's going to find Jenny, "who's gone off ringing bells somewhere," reunite the family, and go home. Albert, delighted to be back in show biz, scarcely hears her, and blithely ignores threats of million-dollar lawsuits from the concert manager and an NBC executive who is counting on Conrad for the Grammy Show. Albert explains his euphoria in (BACK IN SHOW BIZ AGAIN). The first act ends with Albert in deep trouble and without Rose to help get him out of it.
Act 2 opens on Albert, who suddenly realizes the mess he's in: he's signed a contract to deliver Conrad, who has run away, he's being sued right and left. "I would've known how to handle this in 1960," he laments. "I was a tiger then!". And he sings (MIDDLE AGE BLUES).
Mae appears with a tall, beautiful young woman, "I need Rose," Albert wails. "She's the only one who can help me." "Call me Rose Number Two," says the young woman, who is a combination of lawyer, financial expert, and Wonder Woman. She quickly disperses Albert's adversaries with legal skill, fast talk, and karate. Albert, rationalizing that, after all, Rose has left him, starts to fall for Rose Two.
Now we see the coupound of Reverend Sun, where a group of spaced-out acolytes chant and sing (INNER PEACE). Rose has infiltrated their midst to rescue Jenny, and by dancing them into a frenzy manages to grab Jenny and escape.
Back in Bent River Junction, Rose Two has faked the death of Conrad to evade NBC's wrath. She fends off skeptical reporters. The "dead" Conrad sits up, drinks a beer, says he's decided to announce his passing was a mistake. But first, he's going to observe his own funeral pageant. Rose Two prevents this by locking Conrad in a closet, and we hear the Tucson Tabernacle Choir, led by Mtobe, in (THERE'S A BRAND NEW BEAT IN HEAVEN).
Rose returns with Jenny to find Albert completely smitten with the gorgeous and efficient Rose Two. He tells his astonished wife he's trading her in for the newer model. Instead of falling apart, Rose shows her mettle by singing and dancing the defiant, (WELL, I'M NOT!)
This is followed by Albert Jr., Jenny and their young friends commenting on the craziness of their elders with WHEN WILL GROWN-UP GROW UP? Albert hears this, realizes he's made a mistake. Rushing to the motel where Mae and Rose are staying, he finally stands up to his Mamma and demands to see Rose. "I was a jackass to ever waste my time with that other Rose, when there's only one Rose in the world I love, worship and adore," he tells her. "Just help me get Conrad through the Grammy Show and it's back to Forest Hills forever." Rose accepts. They kiss. "Rose," he yells, "I'm a tiger again!" Albert sings and dances (YOUNG).
At the TV studio it's near air-time, Conrad announces he's not going to appear. It seems that after his "funeral" he called a press conference to announce his recovery and millions of letters poured in. "The Citizens Committee decided not to nominate me for the Senate. They're gonna let me run for President instead! And it wouldn't be proper for the next President to shake it up on TV!" Consternation. The NBC executive demands that Conrad Birdie "or a reasonable facsimile" be on that stage in 20 minutes or else. But no old record stars are available. Mae appears. "Would you take Delores Zepol?" she asks. "Zepol!", says Mr NBC, "the toast of the Twenties? Sure I'd take her, but she disappeared fifty years ago." Mae coyly says, "She's back." A Shocked Albert says, "Mamma-you, in show biz?" "Only until I married your father, sonny boy."
And Mae steps in and saves the Grammy Show with her singing and dancing rendition of her 1925 hit, (I LOVE 'EM ALL). Albert gets his twenty thousand dollars. One surprise remains. "Zepol," mused Rose, "Unusual name." "Hungarian, I think," replies Mae. "Spelled backwards-Lopez!", says Rose. "Mae, you're - Spanish!" Mae, trapped, admits it,. She embraces a very reluctant Rose as Conrad rushes on. "Albert, I couldn't let you down, old buddy! It means giving up the Presidency, but if the country can take it, so can I!"
So Conrad goes on the show, and we hear his version of (BRING BACK BIRDIE). Against this Rose and Albert sing TWENTY HAPPY YEARS, followed by ROSIE, the same song that brought down the curtain twenty years ago on BYE BYE BIRDIE.