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Bye Bye Birdie: Jennifer Lopez wants to ‘push the envelope’ with next live musical

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Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images; Everett Collection

Here’s the story, morning glory: Jennifer Lopez’s upcoming star turn in NBC’s next live musical, Bye Bye Birdie, will restore the show to its topical roots that some critics argue were ‘watered down’ in the beloved 1963 film version.

Lopez herself offered those words during NBC’s leg of the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour, where she was promoting her sophomore series Shades of Blue. Asked to discuss her forthcoming role in the network’s fifth live musical, Lopez gushed about her excitement for tackling Birdie with a modern POV, even as it remains set in the ‘60s.

In Bye Bye Birdie, Lopez will star as Rosie, the sarcastic, whip-smart, and perennially put-upon secretary of a frazzled music agent named Albert — who happens to be her boyfriend but can’t seem to commit. A key facet of Rosie’s character, originated in the 1960 Broadway production by Chita Rivera, is her Puerto Rican heritage, which drives a wedge between Rosie and Albert’s racist mother; the latter’s jokes at Rosie’s expense inspires one of the leading lady’s most memorable songs, a solo of reckless abandon in act two called ‘Spanish Rose.’

However, in the 1963 movie, Janet Leigh played the role and though Rosie was still of Latin descent, the filmmakers scrapped both the song and much of the racial antagonism from Albert’s mother.

“The role of Rosie onstage…is such a great role, and it got watered down a little bit in the movie version,” said Lopez, who began her performing career in musical theater. “She was Puerto Rican, and Albert, who she was with, was not marrying her, [because] his mother did not like that she was Puerto Rican. There’s all these dynamics that were in the original play that didn’t make it into the movie.”

“It’s going to be interesting to actually play that part and be a woman who’s pushing 40 and feeling like, ‘Are we ever getting married?’ and wanting that and being the driver of the whole piece,” Lopez continued. “It’ll be authentic, it’ll be colorful, and we want to just push the envelope of how great these live television musicals can be. So I’m excited to take it on as a producer, and as a role.”

She’ll executive produce the musical with her producing partner Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas (with whom she brought the title to NBC) and Benny Medina, as well as Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. Harvey Fierstein will update the book for television, as he did for Hairspray Live.

Meanwhile, casting has not yet been announced for the other pivotal roles in the musical, including songwriter Albert (originated by Dick Van Dyke), local fan girl Kim MacAfee (immortalized onscreen by Ann-Margret), and of course, titular bad-boy musician Conrad Birdie (a role which we can only assume was written specifically so Nick Jonas could play him in 2017).