“No matter the generation, it’s the same story,” says Scott Levy, executive director of performing arts at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. He’s talking about the generational divide when it comes to music, how parents these days “don’t understand it or think it’s any good,” when many of these parents grew up in the late ’50s, a time during which their own music was the subject of parental disdain.
That is, Levy says, the spirit behind Bye Bye Birdie, the classic musical hitting the FAC stage this weekend. Based not-so-loosely on the Elvis Presley craze, Bye Bye Birdie was the first American musical to incorporate rock music (originally staged in 1960), laying the groundwork for classics such as Hair and RENT, according to Levy. The story centers on Conrad Birdie, an Elvis-adjacent kind of figure who has been drafted into the Army. His PR representative suggests a big publicity stunt as a last hurrah — a kiss for a lucky fan, live on The Ed Sullivan Show. So Birdie visits the small town of Sweet Apple, Ohio, where the winner of the contest lives, and whips the suburb into a frenzy of fans and critics alike.
“The show itself is a good time,” Levy says. “It is light, it is frothy, it is filled with really wonderful melodies.” Some of these tunes have become popular in the mainstream, so even those who have never seen the show probably know “Put On a Happy Face” or “A Lot of Livin’ to Do.”
One thing that excites Levy about this particular performance is that the teenagers in this show will be played by actual teenagers. The FAC’s Youth Rep program, which runs during summer, has nurtured a lot of talented young performers, and the FAC picked a crop of juniors and seniors to work alongside professionals. It speaks again to the core of Bye Bye Birdie: that cross-generational appeal, now with a cross-generational cast. It’s the first show, too, where Levy gets to perform with his whole family.
Appearing alongside the FAC’s exhibit of rock ’n’ roll photography by Larry Hulst, Bye Bye Birdie should provide that nice extra window into the world of rock music, especially rock music at its earliest mainstream peak. While not everyone from baby boomer to teenager can always agree on what makes great music, they can at least agree that Bye Bye Birdie makes for a great musical.
Thursdays, Fridays, 7:30 p.m., Saturdays, April 1, 15 and 22, 7:30 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m., Sat., April 8, 5 p.m., Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St., tickets start at $20, csfineartscenter.org.