When NBC announced that they would be producing a live television production of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’, produced by and starring Jennifer Lopez, it immediately struck a chord with actor Rikki Lee Travolta.
Travolta has played the role of Conrad Birdie throughout the country, with many variations of interpretation – but always respectful that the role was inspired by rock ‘n ‘ roll idol Elvis Presley.
“I’ve played Conrad as a brooding bad boy, I’ve played Conrad as the comic relief,” notes Travolta. “It’s such a great role because I can bring each director’s vision to life while staying true to what makes the musical fun.”
In fact, the National Association of Amateur Elvis Impersonators made Travolta an honorary member because of his ability to capture the spirit of “The King” while staying true to the ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ script. Harvey Fierstein is penning the television script for the live broadcast adaptation.
But playing Conrad on television opposite Lopez is much more than another role for Travolta.
A professional actor from the age of nine on, Travolta was the first celebrity guest star in ‘Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding’ and in 2005 he was named alongside Donnie Osmond and Patrick Cassidy as one of the top three Josephs in the world for the musical ‘Joseph…Dreamcoat.’
All things seemed rosy for the triple threat performer, that is until he was diagnosed with a life-changing disability in 2008.
After eight years of rehabilitation, Travolta made a triumphant return to the stage in June as McMurphy in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ at the Historic Woodstock Opera House outside of Chicago. Critics raved, and theater lovers turned out in droves to witness what was being dubbed as Travolta’s “Comeback”. He was even nominated as Best Actor in the Broadway World Chicago Theater Awards. Travolta’s co-star Kate Curtin and director Randall Knott also received nominations, as did the ensemble.
Now Travolta and his agent at Allensworth Entertainment are looking to make a mark with the next step in his comeback. They have set their sights on getting Travolta an audience with Lopez and her production staff to convince them he’s the right person to bring the Elvis-based character to life.
“I’m not looking for them to cast me because I’m disabled. I’m looking to be cast because I’m the best for the role despite being disabled,” states Travolta.
It is important to note that Travolta’s disability would not affect his ability to do the role, it is a disability that remains invisible thanks to his rehabilitation. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Linda Hamilton, Mel Gibson, Richard Dreyfuss, and Maurice Benard have similar disabilities and are still able to perform.
“If I win the part, it would be an inspiration to all disabled people that there is no ceiling to what we can accomplish if we put our minds to it,” explains Travolta.