Given its premise, this ingenious mashup of vintage TV fluff and Elizabethan drama would seem more a likely candidate for sketch comedy than for a two hour musical. But playwright Stephen Garvey brings more to the party than just the laughter of recognition. The script is surprisingly well-made and the many threads of the plot are skillfully interwoven. Particularly in the explosive second act, the twists keep coming and the travails of the star-crossed characters are both gruesomely comic and, at times, oddly touching. The dramatis personae are taken from the guilty-pleasure cult favorites The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. In this edition, though, canned laughter and commercial breaks are exchanged for gore, ghosts, skullduggery and madness.
Widowed singer Shirley Partridge (Kristy Cates) attempts to find happiness with her new husband, manager Reuben Kincaid (Thomas Poarch). This arouses the Oedipal ire of her son Danny (Chuck Bradley), who stomps around the stage like a pumpkin-wigged Hamlet. Meanwhile in the House of Brady, matriarch Carol (Lori Hammel), urges her husband Mike (Sean McDermott) to screw his courage to the sticking point. At her prompting, Mike plots to do away with his boss, Mr. Phillips (Mike Timoney), and anyone else who gets the way of his ambition. To further complicate matters, the Brady and Partridge clans progress from a musical rivalry to all-out war. This makes it difficult for Lori Partridge (Christiana Little) and Greg Brady (Zach Trimmer) to act on their mutual attraction. Keith Partridge (Erik Keiser) and Marcia Brady (Cali Elizabeth Moore) also fall in love across enemy lines, and soon the younger siblings are dragged into the fray as well. Bobby and Cindy Brady (Chaz Jackson and Talisa Friedman) and middle child Peter (Matthew Dorsey Moore) cook up their own brand of lethal mischief, while Chris Partridge (Alex Goley / Mitch McCarrell) undergoes an unsettling transformation. As the body count mounts, comic servants Alice (Joan Lunoe) and Sam (Timony) are frequently on hand to leaven the proceedings with bad puns and cheery self-deprecation.
Under Jay Stern’s thoroughgoing direction, the cast adroitly rises to the challenge of finding the emotional core of the characters while remaining true to the stylized acting style of the original series. They bring the same commitment to the show’s bubble gum musical numbers, which, like the characters, are culled from the Brady/Partridge catalogue. Polina Roytman’s costume designs, with their boots, vests and ruffled sleeves, help to blend the Shakespearean and 1970’ sitcom worlds.
BARDY is not without some imperfections, as Garvey doesn’t always know what to leave out. References to Watergate and Vietnam feel out of place, belonging neither to Shakespeare nor to the fantasy America depicted on the shows. And as the play edges ever closer to its climax, the pace is sometimes impeded by scenes that take too long to unfold. Still, if this theatrical roller coaster could stand to take its peaks and dips at a faster clip, it’s still a ride well worth taking: recommended not only for fans of the groovy kitsch of yesteryear, but for theater mavens of all types.
For an informative and amusing interview with the playwright, check out this post on Anne E. Johnson’s terrific blog:
THE BARDY BUNCH continues through April 13 at the Theater at St. Clements 423 W. 46th Street, New York, NY 10036. (212) 246-7277