For the Brady Kids it’s a beautiful morning and it’s gonna be a beautiful day. And why not? It’s 1974, they’re movin’ and groovin’ all through the night, and The Partridge Family is getting hot under the collar as the Bradys tread on their turf — a sure sign that they’re worthy competitors. But in seventies sitcom land one does not simply unseat the royals. Tracy Partridge, get your triangle … there’s gonna be a musical throw down.
Welcome to The Bardy Bunch: The War of the Families Partridge and Brady, and if you’ve been here before – welcome back! In 2011 playwright Stephen Garvey showed Fringe audiences what happens when you take a little bit of The Brady Bunch canon, A little bit of The Partridge Family canon, and handfuls from the Shakespeare buffet and shake them all up together. The result is one giant molded-salad of puns, quotes and interlocking story lines all set against a vivid avocado and burnt orange background. “This is one show I wish I could go back and see again,” I’d said in my 2011 Fringe review and now, thanks to the good sense of the theatre gods, my wish came true.
In the hands of Garvey The Bardy Bunch is musical comedy genius, and watching this reboot now playing at the Theatre at St. Clements was like settling in to watch a re-run of a beloved show. There was a rush of familiarity coupled with a tingle of expectation at what I’d remember. I was also excited to see some new scenes added in that only made the show better.
Choreographer Lorna Ventura once again sets up the show with a powerhouse number of both nostalgic and new moves. Ventura faithfully recreates the Bradys’ iconic twirls as they fly down the road in their makeshift Model T A – so familiar that you are doing the moves along side them in your head. But then quick as a wink the Partridge kids bear down and Ventura swirls the warring kids up in a West-Side-Story rumble that ignited the audience and set the pace for the entire night.
From here on in it’s Brady verses Partridge at every turn with shades of Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet ringing the big bells with a few other Shakespearean references tinkling throughout. You’ll be tickled regardless of how extensive your knowledge of the Bard’s body of work. And rest assured, in case you miss a reference there’s bound to be a show-off in the audience ready to point it out by laughing loudly at an allusion you might have missed. That’s okay – there’s plenty of fun to go around and everyone’s there to have a good time.
Director Jay Stern (who also directed Bardy at Fringe 2011) knows the material well – pulling just the right moments of silliness and fun to warm the fans of the corny TV shows while still understanding when to control the effect of the Shakespearean references in order to have them hit their mark. Stern’s balanced hand ensures that Bardy is a delicate melange rather than a chaotic jumble – something that easily could have happened in the hands of a less perceptive director. This is most evident when Stern succeeds in making a brutal bloodbath work as it plays out behind a crooning love song – no small feat, but just what the Bard ordered.
The cast is effervescent and fresh – despite simultaneously being spot-on in their retro interpretation. Shag haircuts and far-out clothes can’t disguise the dynamic exuberance they bring to every number. With several alums from the original Fringe cast it’s obvious that this show is as fun to perform as it is to watch. All involved – from Brady Kids to Partridge Family and even Rubin and Alice come together in big numbers like the showstopping “(You’ve Got The)Sunshine In Your Hands/Think I’ll Go For A Walk Outside” arranged by musical director Logan Medland. Moments like this one – and there were many – had the audience clapping along exuberantly and whooping at the end of the number.
The entire show is written with a wink to the audience, both a love letter to the shows of childhood as well as a lampooning of the hackneyed, rehashed plots favored by both shows. But as the Bard himself said in “As You Like It” - ”I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it”. Corny? Yes. Sappy? Definitely. But we like that mid-century modern place that Mr. Brady designed. We like that Mondrian-painted bus that Mrs. Partridge drove around. We willingly waste our time in the corridor of 1970s land where Marcia is lovely, Keith Partridge is dreamy, and everything is groovy on a daily basis. If you didn’t have the chance to spend some time with this bunch a few years ago … now is the time to catch it and willingly waste some time of your own. You’ll be glad you did.
The Bardy Bunch: The War of the Families Partridge and Brady
Written by Stephen Garvey
Directed by Jay Stern
March 20-April 13, 2014
Theatre at St. Clements
423 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036
CLICK HERE for tickets