Seinfeld‘s Jason Alexander stars in a darling remake of Bye Bye Birdie, the warhorse musical that was made into a movie in 1963. It’s essentially a satire of Elvis Presley — ’50s rock sensation Conrad Birdie (Marc Kudisch) is about to go into the Army — but Bye Bye Birdie captures the liberating joy of early rock & roll so well that the satire melts into welcome sincerity. The original composer-lyricist team of Charles Strouse and Lee Adams wrote five new songs for this new production, but it’s the original tunes, such now pop standards as ”Put On a Happy Face,” ”Kids,” and ”One Last Kiss,” that’ll have you humming along in your living room.
Alexander plays Conrad’s manager, singing and dancing with boundless energy and sporting a toupee. Singer Vanessa Williams positively glows as his assistant and girlfriend, Rosie. Chynna Phillips, as Kim, the small-town girl who gets to meet her idol, is charming but suffers in comparison with the movie version’s Kim, Ann-Margret in her hip-hugging prime. So does Cheers‘ George Wendt as Kim’s exasperated dad, the role played to cinematic perfection by Paul Lynde.
As always, Conrad himself is little more than a hip-swiveling cipher, but Kudisch makes him dreamily likable. This TV production, directed by theater vet Gene Saks, has an irony-free innocence that is rare and welcome these days. B+