Who's doesn’t remember The Brady Bunch? Mike Brady who has three sons, marries Carol, who has three daughters, they bring in a live in housekeeper, Alice, and they quickly become one of America’s most beloved families of the 1970’s. We basically watch the kids grow up, getting into all kinds of hijinks along the way, before they finally do what makes the most sense - form a family band. Sure, they're creating a musical unit may have not come from an organic source, rather coming with the task to make a few bucks to replace the silver platter than Jan messed up. Still, the Gang was groovy enough to not only win first prize in the talent contest with their song and dance routine, but their brief musical career gave them a new identity to the show’s viewers that stuck. Oldest brother Greg even attempts a solo career in music as Johnny Bravo after being “recruited” by a record company, only to find out that he wasn’t very good and was only selected because the “jacket fit”, literally.
Enter The Partridge Family, who debuted in homes shortly after The Brady Bunch. A widowed mother along with her five children tour both locally and nationally as a jammin’ rock band - and, yes, they all “play” their own instruments unlike the Brady’s. Leaving us a song per episode, The Partridge Family revolves around sappy love songs whereas the Brady’s dive into the music world is originated most certainly out of necessity and lasts but a couple random episodes.
There is little doubt, The Partridge Family wins the cool prize of the two families. Led by mom on keyboards, Shirley Partridge is an attractive musician who like to wear her shorts high while son Keith is a teenage heartthrob and daughter Laurie is dreamt about by teenage boys all across America. Then there was Danny, a mischievous redhead who badly faked his way up and down the neck of a bass. The family could be found playing music to raise attention to just causes or simply getting their groove on rehearing in the garage.
So here’s the question - Brady’s or Partridges? You know it’s come up at one time or another.
In “The Bardy Bunch” we get a riotous clash of the two families who step outside of our TV sets to settle this dispute once and for all on the stage. Written by Stephen Garvey, we get a glimpse of the two families as the show begins, just before the Brady kids jump into a lively version of “Keep On” complete with the same cheesy dance moves performed on the TV show. Immediately we get a sense that Olivia Rentaria as Marcia Brady and Sawyer Smith as Greg are going to be entertaining as hell to watch.
Though the story proves to be on the herky-jerky side where ghosts and murders are featured in rapid succession, it doesn’t really detract from the fact that audience members are in for an hour and forty-five minutes of campy fun, similar to The Brady Bunch movies that spoofed the family in the 1990’s. The fun to this show lies in the brilliant character lampooning done by this ultra-talented cast. This, in itself, makes the show a success. However, Garvey doesn’t want to live on camp alone, adding a plethora of Shakespeare references throughout the play, including the forbidden love of Keith, a Partridge, and Marsha, a hated Brady ala Romeo and Juliet. Of course, unlike the young Capulet and Montague, they are first obsessed with each other’s hair.
While Skyler Adams as a hokey, exaggerated Keith Partridge draws continuous laughs throughout the play as the largest player involved, he is joined by a stellar ensemble, each one taking advantage of their ample opportunities. Erin McGrath is well cast as Laurie Partridge, perfectly capturing the blasé nature of the former teen model, while Carol and Mike Brady are wonderfully played by seasoned veterans Cory Goodrich and Stef Tovar, two true talents. Brianna Borger takes on the other head of the household as Shirley Partridge and does a bang up job, bobbing head and all.
The play revisits many humorous episode scenarios from both shows and plants a dismissiveness for Jan Brady as the middle child who never seems to get any attention while also portraying Danny Partridge as the calculating business man in a thirteen-year-old body. “The Bardy Bunch” also dishes out a boatload of seventies lingo from calling someone a “real crumb” to Greg calling Laurie a “real groovy chick”. This play is undoubtedly a feast of nostalgia down to its groovy threads.
And with the humor comes the music, which if unfamiliar, is really good! Partridge hits dominate the show (obviously) with a nice selection including “I Woke Up in Love”, “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat”, “I Think I Love You” and the feel good, stand up singalong finale number, “Together We’re Better”.
“The Bardy Bunch” is jam-packed with laughs and fun memories for those who grew up watching the two families in action. With so much ugliness going on in the world today, we are given a wonderful escape to kick back and enjoy ourselves if just for an evening.
“The Bardy Bunch”, winner of the Overall Excellence Award for Outstanding Ensemble at the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival, is currently being performed at Mercury Theater through November, and hopefully longer. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.MercuryTheater.com or www.TheBardyBunch.com.
In fine holiday tradition The Christmas Schooner has once again set sail, this time for its third year at Mercury Theater after a twelve year run at Baliwick. Inspired by the 1912 shipwreck of “The Christmas Tree ship” in Lake Michigan, manned by Captain Rouse Simmons, The Christmas Schooner is a heartwarming story catapulted by strong family bonds and Christmas spirit.
Written by John Reeger and composer Julie Shannon, The Christmas Schooner is the tale of a brave sea captain of German decent who decides to ship Christmas trees from Michigan to Chicago through the treacherous winter storms. He is prompted to do so after receiving a letter from his cousin who tells him Christmas is not the same without a Christmas tree. Tannebaums (fir trees) have always been a tradition in Germany and the many Germans in Chicago have not had access to them since leaving their homeland. There are plenty of trees in Michigan, so Captain Peter Stossel, along with his father Gustav, set sail to Chicago in the hopes that they will find buyers for the many trees they have bundled aboard. To the crew’s surprise, hundreds of Chicagoans are waiting for them, having already dubbed their schooner as “The Christmas Tree Ship”.
Karl Hamilton is just wonderful as “Captain Peter Stossel” generating a true genuineness in his role as a family man, a beloved sea captain and as the man who will sacrifice in order to make a difference. At the same time, Cory Goodrich (“Alma Stossel”) and James Wilson Sherman (“Gustav Stossel”) are also superb all the way around. Sherman exudes charm and kindness becoming the grandfather every child would be lucky to have. A very strong supporting cast is also key in making this such a delightful production with great performances by Travis Taylor as “Steve”, the Captain’s best friend and right hand man, Elizabeth Haley and Brennan Dougherty who plays “Karl Stossel”.
The Christmas Schooner blends classic Christmas songs with original numbers. In this lively production, we are treated to an intriguing story, polished vocal performances, big choruses and a handful of well-choreographed dance routines. Like it or not, audience members cannot help but be injected with a massive dose of Christmas spirit. This is a show that anyone of any age can thoroughly enjoy.
Performances are running at Mercury Theater (3745 N. Southport Ave) through December 29th. If it isn’t already, make The Christmas Schooner your new holiday tradition. For tickets and/or more information visit www.mercurytheaterchicago.com or call 773-325-1700.
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