I wouldn't say BBB is one of my favorite musicals of all time, but I do love it. I started loving it when I was in high school, myself. I never related to Kim, though. I was always looking for the day I could play Rose. I may never be able to actually play Rose, as she is a dancer, but maybe she doesn't HAVE to be a dancer? What? It's in the script? Oh, screw you.
I had the OBC recording on CD when I was younger, and when I was downloading it on Apple Music to listen to I THOUGHT I was downloading the same version (Chita Rivera has top billing and they both said Broadway cast), but I accidentally listened to the London cast several times through and was really confused. But, there were some interesting changes (and just a year or so apart).
So, on Broadway, Susan Watson played Kim and she's like your perfect human girl. I mean, even if we're talking ONLY about her singing voice (and let's assume we are), it's flawless. She has great control, her voice is crystal clear, it basically sounds like a Disney princess. So, she's singing "How Lovely to be a Women" -- which is a ridiculous song to everyone else, but completely NOT ridiculous to Kim. She believes the FUCK out of those lyrics. And with Susan Watson singing, you're like, "Wow. No wonder Kim is so popular. She sounds like the vocal embodiment of a Beauty Pageant Winner."
"How Lovely to be a Woman" includes the lyrics,
When you're a skinny child of fourteenWHAT HUMAN FEMALE SUDDENLY HAS CLEAR SKIN AT AGE 15?!?!? If anything, my skin was WORSE from 14 to 15. It's not like she's turned 22. She's 15 and still a child. She's not even the age of the Little Mermaid, yet. BUT, she truly believes she is a "woman" now, and as a listener, because Susan Watson sounds amazing and perfect, you believe it, too.
Wired with braces from ear to ear
You doubt that you could ever be appealing
Then hallelujah, you are fifteen and the braces disappear
And your skin is smooth and clear
And you have that happy grown up female feeling...
Now, what's interesting is that in the London cast, the girl who plays Kim, Sylvia Tysick, does NOT sound like a perfect human girl. She sounds like a kid. A kid who really believes she is a "woman" now, but that we, the audience, definitely DO NOT. I mean, she can sing just fine, but her voice isn't special, it's not flawless. To me, this is the more believable Kim. Everyone is the worst in high school and has absolutely no idea that they are the worst. That's why American media is so dumb: they get 20-somethings, who are past all their terrible awkwardness, to play high schoolers. It's just not realistic.
I mean, I have heard Bye Bye Birdie hundreds of times, but it really took listening to Sylvia Tysick's Kim to be like, "Oh. I get it. I REALLY get it." AND I'M JUST TALKING ABOUT ONE SONG, FROM ONE CHARACTER!
The rest of BBB did not make me think so much. But, I do love it. I consider it the first Rock Musical. It's very true to life and completely unpretentious. It's funny and charming and joyous. Even though the music is pretty generic (except for Conrad Birdie's songs: the first rock songs in a musical), there is one SPECIFICALLY interesting part during the intro to "An English Teacher" (my favorite song from this show) that I have loved since I was 16 years old. Generic or not, this musical is a HIT. People still love it and even if you've never seen any musicals, you've probably heard "Put On a Happy Face" or "Kids" at least once in your life.
I love it, too. If I were grading these, Bye Bye Birdie would be a solid A.
Bye Bye Birdie
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Lee Adams
Book by Michael Stewart
PS - I barely mentioned Chita Rivera, but can we talk about her as a singer, not a dancer, for a moment? She is so wonderful. She is a fucking inspiration. I love her. Also, Dick Van Dyke, holy hell. So perfect. I think of Dick Van Dyke and instantly smile, because I think of his smile.
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