Chicago Theatre Review
The War of the Families Partridge and Brady
The Bardy Bunch – Mercury Theatre
The brainchild of playwright Stephen Garvey, this little cult musical parody originally debuted at New York’s 2011 Fringe Festival and eventually moved to an Off-Broadway venue in 2014. This pastiche that pairs the The Brady Bunch with the Partridge Family imagines the year is 1974. Both of their television series have been cancelled after several years of popularity and hidden rivalry. Now reduced to performing at theme parks, both families, like the Capulets and Montagues, are furious at having to share the spotlight. Their anger quickly turns into jealousy and antagonism, and soon resentfulness evolves into name-calling, fighting and, eventually, murder.
Garvey’s clever mashup combines the plots and characters from many of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, casting all the beloved characters from two of television’s chirpiest vintage sitcoms in the roles. Mr. and Mrs. Brady are seen as Lady Macbeth and her ambitious husband. Danny Partridge reacts to events around him like Hamlet, with Cindy Brady suffering a similar fate as Polonius, and Jan Brady going mad and tossing flowers around like Ophelia. Keith Partridge and Marsha Brady represent those famous star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, and Laurie Partridge flirts with Greg Brady, much like Beatrice and Benedict. And while murder and mayhem run rampant, and the ghosts of dead characters haunt the stage, Carol Brady and Shirley Partridge comfort their families with homely platitudes like, “It’ll be okay” and “Your father’s right, kids.” Milk and cookies are offered as solace, although the cookies are actually poisoned.
All this tongue-in-cheek humor is liberally seasoned with 15 pop songs from the two sitcoms. Catchy, toe-tapping tunes like “I Think I Love You,” “It’s a Sunshine Day,” “I Woke Up in Love This Morning” and “Together We’re Better” are fond reminders of a simpler, happier time. The individual and collective sound provided by these 18 talented actors is spectacular, making each melody a hit. Almost every song is accompanied by some snappy, side-splitting, high-spirited choreography created by New York’s Lorna Ventura. The joyful dance numbers are sharply performed with perfect synchronicity and an air of optimism. It’s actually the music and choreography that makes this show so much fun.
While Garvey’s script succinctly captures the humor of all those lame one-liners that were so familiar in these TV shows, he infuses the play with familiar dialogue from the Bard. However, Jay Stern’s direction sometimes lacks the appropriate cleverness necessary to point up the comedy. While the parody works well when cues are picked up and lines are delivered clearly, with rapid-fire assuredness, there are too many moments when some of the actors get caught up in the “Drama.” This is a comedy and needs no suspenseful pauses. But then the cast sings and dances again and the quick tempo is restored.
The cast is excellent and delivers all the insanity found in this satire with relish. Cory Goodrich and Brianna Borger are particularly good as Carol Brady and Shirley Partridge. Thanks to topnotch costumes by Robert Kuhn and, particularly, Kevin Barthel’s authentic wig and hair design, the ladies are almost dead ringers for Florence Henderson and Shirley Jones. Stef Tovar makes an easily manipulated Mike Brady, while Jeff Max is quite strong as Reuben Kincaid. Tina Gluschenko is pitch perfect as a very funny Alice and Bret Tuomi surprises as her boyfriend, Sam the Butcher, and others.
Keith Partridge, as portrayed by talented Skyler Adams, is wonderful, as is lovely Olivia Renteria, in the role of Marcia Brady. Both sing and dance beautifully and with confidence, really delivering all the humor. Multitalented Sawyer Smith makes a convincing, curly-haired Greg Brady, as does pigtailed Callie Johnson as little Cindy Brady. Jake Nicholson has Bobby Brady down perfectly and Jared Rein brings back fond memories of a disgruntled, redheaded Danny Partridge. Chris Partridge, humorously played by both Timothy Eidman and Jake Stempel, mimic the way TV shows used to quietly replace an actor, thinking the public wouldn’t notice. It’s a sight gag that really delivers. Mary-Margaret Roberts is a sweet little Tracy Partridge, mistress of the triangle and tambourine, and Erin McGrath has some nice moments as Laurie Partridge.
The actress who practically steals this production is guest artist Annie Watkins, who plays Jan Brady with great aplomb. She’s the only cast member from the original New York production and she fits in beautifully with her Chicago co-stars. As in the TV series, poor Jan seems to always fade into the background or remain forgotten. Everyone else finds love except her. Even after she bites the dust and becomes one of many ghosts roaming the premises, Jan goes unnoticed by her family. It’s a running joke that’s still funny.
This shrewd send-up by Stephen Garvey, directed by Jay Stern, musical directed by Logan Medland and stunningly choreographed by Lorna Ventura, is a lot of fun. Keyboardist Bobby Dietz provides the excellent accompaniment, the Bard provides the plot lines and Nick at Night provides the characters. It’s just one more way to commemorate Shakespeare’s 400 Celebration with a 90-minute parody that entertains while it brings back fond memories of our youth.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 15-November 27 by Disappearing Dog, LLC, at the Mercury Theater 3745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-325-1700 or by going to www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.