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A CurtainUp Review
The Bardy Bunch
First seen at the New York City Fringe Festival 2011 (Award for Outstanding Ensemble), this parody is a ton of fun. But it needs a stronger through-line to deliver all of its Shakespearean goods.
The light feeling and spirit are ballasted with the reality that the Partridge and Brady’s TV programs had recently been cancelled from the ABC networks. Moreover, Richard Nixon had just resigned the presidency in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Far from a profound historic study, this parody nonetheless holds a Shakespearean mirror up to American culture and looks it in its political eye.
The subtitle of this work is The War of the Families Partridge and Brady and Garvey wastes no time unpacking the woes of each family. The opener ("The Past is Prologue") is a comic reworking of the original Prologue of Romeo and Juliet. It's delivered, meat cutter in hand, by the chorus Sam the Butcher. Garvey has updated and embellished it with 70s lingo by switching the household names of Capulet and Montague to Partridge and Brady.
When Garvey branches out into other Shakespeare plays he ends up overloading the narrative. He does have witty Shakespeare puns percolating throughout his scenes, but these Bardian bon mots and jokes, clever as they are, begin to reach a saturation point after the first 30 minutes or so. Can one have too much of a good thing? The only answer here is yes!
That said, the 17-member cast is packed with enough talent to keep the tuner alive and breathing. The real star, of course, is Shakespeare himself. And his language and characters played out by the Partridges and Bradys (in masquerade or mock episodes) take the audience on a merry-go-round of rivalry, jealousy, and love in sunny California.
The songs are really the glue of the show, all classics from the 70s, courtesy of the Partridge and Brady musical archives. Some of the best are"I Think I Love You," "It’s a Sunshine Day," and "I Woke Up In Love This Morning." Note by note, beat by beat, they are catchy (and sometimes corny) as ever.
The dance sequences are cheerleader-bouncyand colorful. While there were no bring-the-house-down numbers, each dance serves to ratchet up the theatrical energy or make for that smooth transition between scenes.
Jay Stern’s even-handed direction keeps the sad-tinged episodes sober and the comic-infused ones light. He could, however, pare down a number of scenes without hurting the show which has been expanded from an hour at the Fringe to over two hours.
The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch did better in longevity than most TV Shows of their era (The Brady Bunch aired from September 1969 to March 1974; The Partridge Family from September 1970 to March 1974), with song albums and spinoffs further imprinting them into popular culture. Garvey certainly has brought these classic families back into the spotlight here.