A storyteller begins: "Once upon a time, so long ago that New York City hadn't even been bankrupt once, there lived a young man in the music business named Albert Peterson, who loved his secretary, Rose. His only client, a rock-n-roll idol known as Conrad Birdie, was being drafted into the army, and Rose wanted Albert to give up the music business, marry her, and become...an English teacher! Alas, Albert's mother - a frail and gentle old lady with many of the same endearing qualities as Snow White's stepmother - opposed the match. But love triumphed, Conrad vanished, the mother was banished, Albert married his Rose and became an English teacher and they all lived happily ever after. (Ominous chord.) Till now."
Albert and Rose are burglarizing their old office, looking for the contract that will put them on the trail of Conrad Birdie. Birdie disappeared 18 years ago, and Albert has been offered $20,000 dollars if he can get him to perform on a TV Grammy Award special, along with other giant recording stars of yesterday. Albert is eager to return to the music business, but Rose is unhappy about it ("Twenty Happy Years"). Albert is almost convinced to give up. Then Mr. Mtobe, the fly-by-night detective, appears, and (to Rose's disgust) finds the old contract. Birdie is at the El Coyote Club, Bent River Junction, Arizona, so Albert and Rosie plan to head for Arizona immediately.
In Forest Hills, Jenny, the Petersons' 16-year-old daughter, has her own plan for leaving home ("Movin' Out" and "Half of a Couple"). Albert Jr., 14, is a budding guitarist. Rose is in the kitchen, contentedly doing her housewifely chores laden with boxes of "Cheer," "Joy," and "Yes" ("I Like What I Do").
Rose reluctantly agrees to help Albert find Conrad, but only for ten days. She informs the children that they will stay in New Jersey while Rosie and Albert are away.
In the bus terminal, Albert has arranged "a spontaneous demonstration by the youth of America demanding the return of Conrad Birdie." Mtobe, who will do anything for a fee, appears to sing "Bring Back Birdie," the song Albert has written for the occasion. Rose and Albert board their bus to Tucson, believing that Jenny and Albert Jr. are on their bus to Cousin Alice's. Instead, Jenny, angry that her mother has vetoed her plan to live with her boyfriend, is intrigued by a saffron-robed lady, who says, "Come march with the Reverend Sun, sister, and find fulfillment." Jenny does. And her brother joins a punk rock band and takes off to fulfill his destiny.
In the black desert rear Bent River Junction, Arizona, while Rose struggles with their luggage, Albert assures her ("Baby, You Can Count on Me").
They find the El Coyote Club, a noisy Western saloon, site of Conrad's last gig, and the bartender turns out to be Mae Peterson, Albert's long-lost mother, who, true to form, insults Rose at every opportunity. Mae seems to know something about Conrad's whereabouts, so Albert leaves with her to consult "her files." Rose has a drink with the resident cowboys and explains why she puts up with Albert ("A Man Worth Fightin' For"). After Rose does a rousing dance with the boys, Albert returns to report that Mayor C. B. Townsend might be able to help in the search.
The Mayor, a dignified, paunchy Western politician, can't recall Mr. Birdie. He is sorry to cut the interview short, but he must meet with the Citizen's Committee to draft him for the Senate. As Albert and Rose turn to leave, the Mayor burps. Albert rushes back into the office. Could Conrad be the Mayor? He is. And we find out why, as the Mayor sings "You Can Never Go Back."
But Albert manages to convince Conrad to try a comeback. They book him to appear at a rock concert the following night at University Stadium, and manage to cram the corpulent Conrad into the old gold suit and shove him on-stage, where he begins one of his old numbers. But the 1981 kids boo him off the stage - they've come to hear the new punk rock group Filth and don't want a 1962 retread like Birdie. Conrad, hurt, runs out.
Meanwhile, Rose has learned that her children are not at Cousin Alice's and is worried. Her concern deepens when she discovers that the guitarist for Filth is none other than Albert Jr., disguised in pink hair and dark glasses! Grabbing her son and interrupting the concert, Rose angrily tells Albert she's going to find Jenny, reunite the family, and go home. Albert, delighted to be back in show biz, scarcely hears her, and blithely ignores threats of million-dollar lawsuits from the concert manager and an NBC executive who is counting on Conrad for the Grammy show ("Back in Show Biz Again"). The first act ends with Albert in deep trouble and without Rose to help him out.
Albert suddenly realizes the mess he's in: he's signed a contract to deliver Conrad, who has run away, he's being sued right and left ("Middle Age Blues").
Mae appears with a tall, beautiful young woman, "I need Rose," Albert wails. "She's the only one who can help me." "Call me Rose Number Two," says the young woman, who is a combination of lawyer, financial expert, and Wonder Woman. She quickly disperses Albert's adversaries with legal skill, fast talk, and karate. Albert, rationalizing that, after all, Rose has left him, starts to fall for Rose Two.
At the compound of Reverend Sun, a group of spaced-out acolytes chant and sing "Inner Peace." Rose, who has infiltrated their midst to rescue Jenny, dances them into a frenzy, grabs Jenny, and escapes.
Back in Bent River Junction, Rose Two has faked the death of Conrad to evade NBC's wrath. She fends off skeptical reporters. The "dead" Conrad sits up, drinks a beer, says he's decided to announce his passing was a mistake. But first, he's going to observe his own funeral pageant. Rose Two prevents this by locking Conrad in a closet. Meanwhile, the Tucson Tabernacle Choir, led by Mtobe, sings "There's a Brand New Beat in Heaven."
Rose returns with Jenny to find Albert completely smitten with the gorgeous and efficient Rose Two. He tells his astonished wife he's trading her in for the newer model. Instead of falling apart, Rose shows her mettle by singing and dancing the defiant "Well, I'm Not!"
Albert Jr., Jenny, and their young friends comment on the craziness of their elders ("When Will Grown-Ups Grow Up?"). Albert hears this and realizes he's made a mistake. Rushing to the motel where Mae and Rose are staying, he finally stands up to his mother and demands to see Rose. "I was a jackass to ever waste my time with that other Rose, when there's only one Rose in the world I love, worship and adore," he tells her. "Just help me get Conrad through the Grammy Show and it's back to Forest Hills forever." Rose accepts. They kiss. "Rose," he yells, "I'm a tiger again!" ("Young").
At the TV studio, near airtime, Conrad announces he's not going to appear. It seems that after his "funeral" he called a press conference to announce his recovery and millions of letters poured in. "The Citizens Committee decided not to nominate me for the Senate. They're gonna let me run for President instead! And it wouldn't be proper for the next President to shake it up on TV!" Consternation ensues. The NBC executive demands that Conrad Birdie "or a reasonable facsimile" be on that stage in 20 minutes or else. But no old record stars are available. Mae appears. "Would you take Delores Zepol?" she asks. "Zepol!", says Mr. NBC, "the toast of the Twenties? Sure I'd take her, but she disappeared fifty years ago." Mae coyly says, "She's back." A shocked Albert says, "Mamma -- you, in show biz?" "Only until I married your father, sonny boy."
And Mae steps in and saves the Grammy show with her singing and dancing rendition of her 1925 hit, "I Love 'Em All." Albert gets his twenty thousand dollars. One surprise remains. "Zepol," muses Rose, "Unusual name." "Hungarian, I think," replies Mae. "Spelled backwards-Lopez!" says Rose. "Mae, you're - Spanish!" Mae, trapped, admits it. She embraces a very reluctant Rose as Conrad rushes on. "Albert, I couldn't let you down, old buddy! It means giving up the Presidency, but if the country can take it, so can I!"
Conrad appears the show ("Bring Back Birdie") while Rose and Albert sing "Twenty Happy Years," followed by "Rosie," the same song that brought down the curtain twenty years earlier in Bye Bye Birdie.
(3 female; 4 male)
Jenny Peterson — daughter of Rose and Albert
Albert Peterson, Jr. — son of Rose and Albert
Mae Peterson/Delores Zepol — mother of Albert
Conrad Birdie/Mayor Townsend — former rock star
Mr. N. Mtobe — private detective
Mr. Marshall — NBC lawyer
Effie — secretary to Mayor Townsend
Rose II — Mae’s candidate
Reverend Sun — cult leader
Hogan — landlord for Mtobe’s office
Walter — lead player with punk rock group “Filth”
Gary — Jenny’s Boyfriend
Punk Rock Group (quintet) “Filth,” Country Music Trio, Rock Back-up Singers “Birdie-ettes,” Twenties Back-up Men “Boyfriends,” Saffron Robed “Sunnies” — Followers of the Reverend Sun — The Tucson Tabernacle Choir, Voices: Woman’s Voice (Opening Storyteller), Stadium Loudspeaker Voice, TV Newscaster, Grammy Awards Announcer, Las Vegas Showgirls, Indian Squaw, Indian Brave, Cowboys, House Manager, Reporters, TV Crew — Cameraman and Technicians — Bus Terminal Denizens: Tourists, Bag Lady, Street Cleaner Demonstrators, Citizens Committee, Rock Concert Patrons, Kids and Adults of Forest Hills, New York and Bent River Junction, Arizona.