Monday, June 7, 8928
Charles Strouse (b. June 7, 1928) is an American composer and lyricist.
Strouse was born and raised in New York City, the son of Ira and Ethel (Newman) Strouse. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, Strouse studied under David Diamond, Aaron Copland, and Nadia Boulanger.
Strouse's first Broadway musical was the 1960 hit Bye Bye Birdie, with lyrics by Lee Adams, who would become his long time collaborator. Strouse won his first Tony Award for best score for this musical, which is considered the precursor of the rock musical. Strouse's next show, All American, with a book by Mel Brooks and lyrics by Adams, came in 1962 and produced the standard Once Upon a Time (recorded by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Bobby Darin, among others). Following this was Golden Boy (1964, also with Adams), starring Sammy Davis, Jr. and It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman (1966, based on the popular comic strip) which introduced the song You've Got Possibilities sung by Linda Lavin.
In 1970, Applause (starring Lauren Bacall, with book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and lyrics by Adams) won Strouse his second Tony Award. In 1977, Strouse adapted another comic strip for the stage, creating the hit Annie, which garnered him his third Tony Award and two Grammy Awards. Other Strouse musicals include Charlie and Algernon (1979), Dance a Little Closer (1983, with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner), Rags (1986), and Nick & Nora (1993). Strouse also wrote a number of musical revues, many with Adams.
Strouse's film scores include the classics Bonnie and Clyde (1967), There Was a Crooked Man... (1970, with Henry Fonda and Kirk Douglas), The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968, with Adams), and All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). He and Adams also wrote the theme song
Those Were the Days for the television show All in the Family. Strouse's songs have been heard on the radio throughout his career and have run the gamut from girl-band pop to hip hop. In 1958, his song Born Too Late was number one on the Billboard charts, and in 1999 the quadruple platinum Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) by artist Jay-Z was the winner of a Grammy for Best Rap Album of the year & the Billboard R&B Album of the Year.
Strouse's writing also extends into orchestral works, chamber music, piano concertos and opera.
His Concerto America, composed in 2002 to commemorate 9/11 and the spirit of New York City, premiered at The Boston Pops in 2004, and his opera Nightingale (1982), starring Sarah Brightman, had a successful run in London, followed by many subsequent productions. In 1977, Strouse founded the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop in New York, through which many young composers and lyricists have found a forum for their work.
Upcoming works by Strouse include an adaptation of the Paddy Chayevsky film Marty starring John C. Reilly, a musical version of The Night They Raided Minsky's, and an adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. Real Men, for which Strouse wrote the music and lyrics, premiered in January 2005 at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, Florida, and his musical Studio, premiered at Theatre Building Chicago in August 2006. The musical Minsky's, with music by Strouse, book by Bob Martin, and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead (loosely based on the movie The Night They Raided Minsky's) premiered in January 2009 at the Ahmanson Theater.
Strouse has won Emmy Awards for music in television adaptions of Bye Bye Birdie and Annie.
He is also the recipient of the ASCAP Foundation Richard Rodgers Award and the Oscar Hammerstein Award. He is also a member of the Theater Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Strouse is married to director-choreographer Barbara Siman. They have 4 children.
Bye Bye Birdie (1960)
All American (1962)
Golden Boy (1964)
It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman (1966)
Six (1971, Off-Broadway)
I and Albert (1972, London)
A Broadway Musical (1978)
Charlie and Algernon (1979, London, as Flowers for Algernon); (1981)
Bring Back Birdie (1981)
Nightingale (1982; this work is often described as an opera)
Dance a Little Closer (1983)
Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge (1989)
Nick & Nora (1993)
Annie Warbucks (1993)
The Future of the American Musical Theater (2004 opera)
Real Men (2005)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968)
There Was a Crooked Man (1970)
Just Tell Me What You Want (1980)
The Worst Witch (1986)
Bye Bye Birdie is a stage musical with music by Charles Strouse, with lyrics by Lee Adams and a book by Michael Stewar.
Originally titled Let's Go Steady, the satire on American society 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. Twitty is best remembered today for his long career as a country music star, but before that, in the late 1950s, he was one of Presley's rock 'n' roll rivals.
The original Broadway production was a Tony Award-winning success. It spawned a London production and several major revivals, a sequel, a 1963 film and a 1995 television production. The show also became a popular choice for high school and college productions.
The producer Edward Padula had the idea for a musical initially titled Let's Go Steady, a "happy teenage musical with a difference." Padula contracted with two writers, and Charles Strouse and Lee Adams wrote seven songs for their libretto. Padula, Strouse and Adams sought Gower Champion as director/choregrapher, who until that time had choreographed only a few musicals (Fred Astaire and Morton DaCosta had already declined). However, Champion did not like the book and the writers were fired, with Michael Stewart then hired. Stewart wrote an early version titled Love and Kisses, which focused on a couple thinking of divorce, but whose children persuade them to stay together. Champion wanted "something more."
"The 'something more' had been right there in the newspaper. On September 22, 1958, rock-and-roll idol Elvis Presley, having been drafted, boarded a ship for eighteen months in Germany.... There was a media circus including Elvis giving a specially selected WAC 'one last kiss'". After brainstorming, Stewart and Adams "came up with the idea of a rock-and-roll singer going off to the army and its effect on a group of teenagers in a small town in Ohio." The name of the singer was Elsworth, then changed to "Conway Twitty before we discovered there was already a Conway Twitty who was threatening to sue us, and then, finally, Conrad Birdie."
Agent and songwriter Albert Peterson finds himself in trouble when hip-thrusting rock and roll superstar Conrad Birdie is drafted into the Army. Albert's Hispanic secretary and sweetheart, Rose Alvarez, comes up with a last-ditch publicity stunt to have Conrad Birdie record and premiere a song before he is sent overseas. She makes Albert promise to give up the music business and to start teaching English at schools ("An English Teacher"). They plan to have Birdie sing Albert's new song "One Last Kiss" and give one lucky girl from his fan club a real "last kiss" on The Ed Sullivan Show before going into the Army.
The lucky girl chosen randomly from Conrad's national fan club is 15-year-old Kim MacAfee from Sweet Apple, Ohio. All the teenagers in Sweet Apple are catching up on the latest gossip about Kim MacAfee and Hugo Peabody going steady ("The Telephone Hour"). Kim, excited to have a boyfriend, reflects on how happy she is with her maturity ("How Lovely to Be a Woman").
Conrad, Albert and Rosie set off to Sweet Apple to prepare for the event. Before they depart by train from New York City, local teenage girls are ecstatic to meet Conrad, but two young girls are sad that by the time Conrad gets out of the army, they'll be too old for him.
Albert advises them to be optimistic ("Put on a Happy Face"). Soon, reporters arrive with questions for Conrad, but Rosie, Albert, and the girls answer for him, declaring he's "A Healthy, Normal, American Boy." Conrad receives a hero's welcome in Sweet Apple, and Hugo worries that Kim likes Conrad more than she likes him, but Kim assures Hugo that he's the "One Boy" she loves. Conrad shocks the town parents and drives the teenage girls crazy with his performance of "Honestly Sincere."
Conrad becomes a guest in the MacAfee house and irritates Kim's father, Harry MacAfee, by being a rude and selfish guest. Mr. MacAfee does not want Kim to kiss Conrad until Albert tells him their whole family will be on The Ed Sullivan Show. Mr. and Mrs. MacAfee, Kim, and her younger brother Randolph sing Sullivan's praises in "Hymn for a Sunday Evening." Hugo sees Kim is attracted to Conrad and becomes very jealous. Albert's overbearing, interfering, mother Mae comes to break up her son's relationship with the Rosie. She introduces Albert to a curvy blonde she met on the bus who could replace Rosie as his secretary.
Rosie, jealous and angry, dreams of "How To Kill A Man (ballet)." Rosie and Hugo plot a way to ruin the broadcast. Conrad sings "One Last Kiss" on The Ed Sullivan Show, and as he leans in to kiss Kim, Hugo runs onstage and punches him in the face. On live television, Conrad collapses, Rosie breaks up with Albert, and Albert, trying to cover for the mishaps of the evening, leads a chorus of "A Healthy, Normal, American Boy."
Despite plans to refilm the broadcast, Rosie and Kim resolve to leave Albert and Hugo, each asking herself, "What Did I Ever See in Him?" Conrad decides he wants to go out and have a good time on his last night as a civilian and encourages the teens to party because they've got "A Lot of Livin' to Do." Conrad, Kim, and all the teenagers except Hugo head for the Ice House to party without adult supervision. Hugo goes to Maude's Roadside Retreat, hoping to get drunk, but proprietor Charles F. Maude can tell that he's under age and refuses to serve him.
When Mr. MacAfee finds out Kim has run away, he and Mrs. MacAfee lament how disobedient "Kids" are today. Rosie ends up at Maude's Roadside Retreat, but Albert calls her on the telephone and begs her, "Baby Talk To Me." Rosie, hoping to forget Albert, interrupts a Shriners meeting being held in Maude's private dining room. She flirts with all the Shriners, and they begin a wild dance. Hugo and Albert rescue Rosie from the crazed Shriners, and Albert finally stands up to his mother, telling her to go home. Hugo tells the MacAfees and the other parents that the teenagers have gone to the Ice House, and they all declare that they don't know what's wrong with their "Kids" (Reprise). Randolph joins in, stating that his older sister and the other teens are "ridiculous and so immature."
The adults and the police arrive at the Ice House and arrest Conrad, although he doesn't appear to have done anything illegal or immoral. Kim claims that she was intimidated by Conrad and Hugo gladly takes her back and proposes to her, which she accepts. After a reconciliation with Albert, Rosie tells Albert's mother Mae that she will marry Albert despite Mae's racist objections, and to irritate her, declares she's "Spanish Rose" with deliberate comic exaggeration. Albert bails Conrad out of jail and arranges for him to sneak out of town dressed as a middle-aged woman—presumably so he can report for Army induction as scheduled. Albert also gets his mother to leave Sweet Apple bound for home on the same train, getting Conrad and his mother out of his life for good. Albert tells Rosie that they're not going back to New York; they're going to Pumpkin Falls, Iowa. The small town is in need of an English teacher, and they prefer the applicant to be married. Albert professes his love for her in "Rosie," and they go off together.
Albert Peterson, Conrad Birdie's manager
Rosie Alvarez, his Spanish secretary and long suffering girlfriend
Conrad Birdie, a 1950s rock and roll star a la Elvis Presley
Kim MacAfee, a teenage girl from Sweet Apple, Ohio who is chosen to receive the 'one last kiss' from Conrad Birdie
Mr. MacAfee, Kim and Randolph's befuddled father whose one dream is realized when the family gets to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show
Mrs. MacAfee, Kim and Randolph's mother
Randolph MacAfee, Kim's precocious ten year old brother
Mrs. Mae Peterson, Albert's crazy mother who hates Rosie
Hugo Peabody, Kim's boyfriend who doesn't like Conrad Birdie
Ursula Merkle, Kim's hyperactive best friend who is Conrad Birdie's biggest fan
Charles F. Maude, the proprietor of Sweet Apple dive bar Maude's Roadside Retreat
Sad Girl, a young New York City girl who is sad about Conrad leaving for the army (featured dance role)
Deborah Sue, Alice, Penelope Ann, Margie, Helen, Nancy, Suzie, Kim and Ursula's friends, teenage members of the Conrad Birdie fan club
The Mayor, the mayor of Sweet Apple
The Mayor's Wife, his wife who is secretly a huge Conrad Birdie fan
Harvey Johnson, the town nerd, just can't seem to get a date
Mr. Johnson, Harvey's father
Mrs. Merkle, Ursula's mother
Maude's Barflies, featured quartet singers in the song "Baby, Talk To Me"
Ed Sullivan, the host of the Ed Sullivan Show
Sweet Apple Adults, Sweet Apple Kids, Sad Girls, Reporters, Conrad's Roadies, Ed Sullivan Stage Crew, Shriners, ensemble roles
An English Teacher – Rosie & Albert
The Telephone Hour – Teenagers
How Lovely to Be a Woman – Kim
We Love You, Conrad! – Teen Trio
Put on a Happy Face – Albert
A Healthy, Normal, American Boy – The Company
One Boy – Kim, Deborah Sue, Alice
One Boy (Reprise) – Rosie
Honestly Sincere – Conrad Birdie, Ursula, and Teenagers
Hymn for a Sunday Evening – The MacAfee Family & Company
How to Kill a Man (Ballet) – Rosie, Albert, Company
One Last Kiss – Conrad & Company
A Healthy, Normal, American Boy (Reprise, Act One Finale) – The Company
What Did I Ever See in Him? – Rosie & Kim
A Lot of Livin’ to Do – Conrad, Kim & Teenagers
Kids – Mr. and Mrs. MacAfee
Baby, Talk to Me – Albert & Quartet
Shriner’s Ballet (dance) – Rosie & Shriners
Kids (Reprise) – Adults, Mr & Mrs Macafee, Randolph
Spanish Rose – Rosie
Rosie – Rosie & Albert
The Broadway production opened 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. Produced by Edward Padula and directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, the original cast included Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera, Paul Lynde, Dick Gautier, Susan Watson, Kay Medford and Charles Nelson Reilly.
Reilly understudied for Van Dyke as Albert Peterson, who periodically took vacations and returned to the leading role. During pre-production, Chita Rivera had taken 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.
The musical opened in the West End at Her Majesty's Theatre in June 1961, with Peter Marshall as Albert, Rivera reprising her role as Rosie, Angela Baddeley as Mae and Marty Wilde as Conrad Birdie. That production ran for 268 performances.
Bye Bye Birdie was first adapted for film in 1963. It starred Dick Van Dyke as Albert Peterson, Maureen Stapleton as Mama Mae Peterson, Janet Leigh as Rosie, Paul Lynde as Mr. MacAfee, Bobby Rydell as Hugo Peabody, and Ann-Margret as Kim MacAfee. Jesse Pearson played Conrad Birdie.
Ed Sullivan makes a substantial guest appearance as himself. The film is credited with making Ann-Margret a superstar during the mid-1960s, leading to her appearing with the real Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas (1964). The film ranked number 38 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.
Several significant changes were made in the plot and character relationships in the film version. Albert is not Birdie's agent but a talented research chemist who is struggling as a songwriter only to please his overbearing mother. He contributed to Birdie's initial success, and therefore Birdie "owes" him a favor. The film version also includes an additional character, a suave English teacher who flirts with Rosie. She plays up to him in several scenes after Albert has made her angry by caving in to his mother.
The positioning and context of several songs were changed as well. "An English Teacher," "A Healthy, Normal American Boy," "One Hundred Ways," "What Did I Ever See In Him?," "Baby Talk To Me" and "Spanish Rose" were eliminated entirely. "Kids" was performed in the MacAfee kitchen by Mr. MacAfee, Mama Mae Peterson, Albert and Randolph. "Put On A Happy Face" is performed by Albert and Rosie in the MacAfees' back yard; "A Lot of Livin' To Do" was performed by Conrad, Kim and Hugo at a teen dance; and "Rosie" is sung at the end of show by Albert, Rosie, Hugo and Kim. Kim also opens and closes the film version singing the title song, "Bye Bye, Birdie."
The film version ends on a brighter and lighter note than the stage musical. When Hugo punches Conrad, knocking him out with a single punch "live" on The Ed Sullivan Show, he wins Kim's heart, and the young couple is reunited. Albert's mother shows up after the broadcast with Charles F. Maude (the bartender), informs Albert and Rosie that she has married him, and gives Albert and Rosie her blessing for their long-postponed wedding.
Van Dyke hated the making of the film, complaining to his wife, "They're turning it into the Ann-Margret show!"
Susan Watson, who created the role of Kim in the stage version, later said, "Anyone who likes the film clearly didn't see the show."
The original production of Bye Bye Birdie opened to mostly positive reviews, with several critics marveling at the unexpected success of a musical crafted by an inexperienced production team.
John Champman of the New York Daily News called it "the funniest, most captivating, and most expert musical comedy one could hope to see ... the show is pure, plain musical comedy, with jokes, dancing, oddball costumes ... exceptionally catching orchestrations ... and a completely enthusiastic cast." He noted that, "one of the best things about it is that practically nobody is connected to it. Who ever heard of Edward Padula ... Charles Strouse and Lee Adams ... Gower Champion?"
Frank Aston of the New York World-Telegram & Sun declared Bye Bye Birdie "the peak of the season" and especially liked Chita Rivera as Rosie: "Chita Rivera ... is triumphant as dancer, comic, and warbler."
In the New York Daily Mirror, Robert Coleman wrote that "Edward Padula put over a sleeper in the Broadway sweepstakes, and it's going to pay off in big figures ... Chita Rivera explodes like a bomb over West 45th Street. Michael Stewart has penned a sassy and fresh book, while Lee Adams and Charles Strouse have matched it with tongue-in-cheek lyrics and music."
New York Herald Tribune critic Walter Kerr praised Gower Champion's direction but criticized the libretto and score, stating that "Mr. Champion has been very much responsible for the gayety (sic), the winsomeness, and the exuberant zing of the occasion ... he has not always been given the very best to work with ... every once in a while, Michael Stewart's book starts to break down and cry ... Lee Adams's lyrics lean rather heavily on the new "talk-out-the-plot" technique, and Charles Strouse's tunes, though jaunty, are whisper-thin."
Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times conceded that "the audience was beside itself with pleasure" but dryly stated that "this department was able to contain itself. Bye Bye Birdie is neither fish, fowl, nor good musical comedy. It needs work."
The Original Broadway Cast recording was released by Columbia Masterworks (1960).
The film soundtrack featured Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh, Ann-Margret, Bobby Rydell, Paul Lynde and Jessee Pearson, released by RCA Records (1964).
[8928 Fats Domino / 8928 Charles Strouse / 8928 Gerald Fried]