"Bye Bye Birdie" has not been on Broadway since the original hit in 1960. And on the basis of the busy and boring revival chosen to open the new Henry Miller's Theatre, the absence is easy to explain.
In fact, it is too easy. Given a production with charm, inventiveness, first-rate casting and belief in the material (I'd take any two of the four), it is very possible that this fondly remembered musical fluff-ball would triumph over its dated references and borderline-offensive bigotry.
This is, after all, one of the earliest cultural artifacts about the impending '60s generation gap. Although the joyful and knowing songs ("Put on a Happy Face," "What Did I Ever See in Him?") by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams are lots more Broadway than rock and roll, Michael Stewart's book about the seismic effects of an Elvis-type idol has a gumballcolored satirical prescience about celebrity obsession.
Alas, the Roundabout Theatre Company's production, directed and choreographed like a bus-and-truck tour by Robert Longbottom, manages to be both frantic and stillborn. John Stamos, as Albert, the show-biz manager and mama's boy, is just pleasantly lightweight in a dance-driven role created by Dick Van Dyke onstage and in the 1963 movie. The painfully miscast Gina Gershon croons into approximate notes, posing more than dancing as a crude sexpot of a Rose, his longtime secretary/ girlfriend.
Nolan Gerard Funk has some lounge-lizard electricity as Conrad Birdie, the rocker manipulated into a last publicity stunt before he goes into the army. But not even Elvis grabbed his crotch like that in 1960. Allie Trimm is talented if a bit bland as the small-town teen chosen to be kissed by Conrad on "TheEd Sullivan Show." As her pompous father, Bill Irwin - per- haps sensing the vacuum onstage - leans too heavily on his mime virtuosity, mugging so hard I expected bruises. Only Jayne Houdyshell, as Albert's mother, emerges unscathed, except she plays a woman who hates Hispanics.
Speaking of unflattering, the costumes are gaudy and the dull set's geometric panels suggest frosted bathroom glass with daisy decals. The choreography is oddly focused on people with their butts sticking out at us. Moving sidewalks often take the place of dancing. Under the circumstances, this may be wise.
WHAT “Bye Bye Birdie”
WHERE Henry Miller’s Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St., Manhattan
INFO $86.50-$136.50; 212-239-6200; roundabouttheatre.org
BOTTOM LINE Nice new theater, dud new revival