Broadway Flashback 1960: Tony Award Winning Bye Bye Birdie Starring Chita Rivera & Dick Van Dyke, Music by Charles Strouse; by Lisa Pacino
Broadway’s musical Bye Bye Birdie starred Chita Rivera and Dick Van Dyke; book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse. The production was a Tony Award winning success in the 1960–61 season.
Tony Award winning legend Chita Rivera, Carnegie Hall, NY, 2014. Photograph by Lisa Pacino.
It opened on Broadway on April 14, 1960, at the Martin Beck Theatre, transferring to the 54th Street Theatre and then the Shubert Theatre, closing on October 7, 1961, after 607 performances.
The original Broadway cast included Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera, Paul Lynde, Dick Gautier, Susan Watson, Kay Medford, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Michael J. Pollard. Reilly understudied as Albert Peterson for Van Dyke, who periodically took time off (including a two-week hiatus to film the pilot episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show) and returned to the leading role. During pre-production, Chita Rivera took the role of Rosie after both Carol Haney and Eydie Gorme turned it down, and the character’s last name was changed from “Grant” to “Alvarez”. Replacements during the run included Gene Rayburn as Albert and Gretchen Wyler as Rosie, both of whom joined the cast on April 9, 1961. The show was produced by Edward Padula and directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, with orchestrations by Robert Ginzler, scenic design by Robert Randolph, costumes by Miles White and lighting by Peggy Clark. It spawned a London production and several major revivals, a sequel, a 1963 film, and a 1995 television production.
Originally titled Let’s Go Steady, Bye Bye Birdie is set in 1958. The story was inspired by the phenomenon of popular singer Elvis Presley and his draft notice into the Army in 1957. The rock star character’s name, “Conrad Birdie”, is word play on the name of Conway Twitty, who is best remembered today for his long career as a country music star, but in the late 1950s, he was one of Presley’s rock ‘n’ roll rivals.
Chita Rivera and Dick Van Dyke, Bye Bye Birdie, Broadway, 1960. Photograph via Photo Fest.
Two-time Tony Award winner Chita Rivera was born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero on January 23, 1933 in Washington, D.C. Her father was Puerto Rican, and her mother was of Scottish and Italian descent. She is an actress, dancer, and singer best known for her roles in musical theatre. She began her career in 1950, spanning over 65 years. Rivera is the first Hispanic woman and the first Latino American to receive a Kennedy Center Honors Award, December 2002. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Her numerous awards include two Tony Awards, two Drama Desk Awards, a Drama League Award, and a Theatre World Award – John Willis Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.
Dick Van Dyke was born Richard Wayne Van Dyke on December 13, 1925 in West Plains, Missouri. He is an actor, comedian, singer, dancer, writer, and producer, whose career has spanned almost seven decades. After gaining recognition on radio and Broadway, Van Dyke became known for his role as Rob Petrie on the CBS-TV sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, which ran from 1961 to 1966. He also gained significant popularity for roles in the musical films Bye Bye Birdie in 1963, Mary Poppins in 1964, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968. Van Dyke is the recipient of five Primetime Emmy Awards, a Tony Award, a Grammy Award, and was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1995. He received the Screen Actors Guild’s highest honor, the SAG Life Achievement Award in 2013, and is recognized as a Disney Legend.
Charles Strouse was born in New York on June 7, 1928. He is a composer and lyricist best known for writing the music to the musicals Bye Bye Birdie, Golden Boy, Applause, Annie, Rags, amongst others. He received numerous Tony Award nominations winning three: 1961, 1970, and 1977. In 2012, he received the Music Hall of Fame for Lifetime Body of Work from Rochester, New York.
Bye Bye Birdie Original Playbill, 1960.
Lisa Pacino and Under The Duvet Productions are based in New York. Photography services are available worldwide. If you wish to book photography services, receive information, and/or license images for commercial and/or promotional use please E-mail: UnderTheDuvetProductions@gmail.com