BWW Review: All's Well With THE BARDY BUNCH

BWW Review: All's Well With THE BARDY BUNCH

All photos courtesy of Brett Beiner

The off-Broadway hit THE BARDY BUNCH, now enjoying its Chicago premiere strives to hit a sweet spot for Generation X theatergoers (and others) who grew up watching the exploits of both "The Brady Bunch" and "The Partridge Family."

For the most part, this mash up of everything Shakespeare and two of TV's most iconic families fires on all cylinders. For maximum enjoyment, you may wish --to borrow a phrase from the late Cole Porter-to brush up on your Shakespeare, as all of the Bard's major works are referenced in the show, which also features songs that were heard on each of the television shows.

Things begin in 1974, when both shows have gone off the air. Both families are inadvertently hired to perform at the grand opening of an amusement park that happens to have been designed by Mike Brady. The Partridges call out the Bradys for stealing their act and an all out riot between the two families soon breaks out.

In the midst of all of this, Greg Brady (Sawyer Smith, who has TV counterpart's moves and manners down) and Laurie Partridge (Erin McGrath, nailing the character's know-it-all aspects along with that wholesome girl-next-door vibe) exchange barbs and chemistry not unlike "The Taming of The Shrew." Keith Partridge (a strong voiced and goofy Skyler Adams) and Marcia Brady (an appropriately self-centered and vapid Olivia Renteria) ignite a "Romeo and Juliet" romance. Jan Brady (the wonderfully funny Annie Watkins) pines for and is ignored by Danny Partridge (a headstrong Jared Rein).

Later, at a costume ball, Carol Brady (the divine Cory Goodrich, dressed as Cleopatra) convinces her husband Mike (Stef Tovar, dressed as Antony) to kill his boss and assume the throne of the architecture firm. It is this murder and the family feud by which everything turns like the gears of a machine.

"Hamlet" also looms large here as Shirley Partridge (the appropriately maternal Brianna Borger) has married the family's manager, Reuben Kincaid (Jeff Max), much to the chagrin of Danny (who, like Hamlet, is suffering from a dozy of an Oedipus complex). Chris Partridge (played initially by Timothy Eidman and then later in the show by Jake Stempel in a nod to the fact that the role was re-cast after two seasons), who wants to step out from behind the drums and play Danny's bass, casts himself as Iago and, along with his sister Tracy (Mary-Margaret Roberts, who deftly delivers all of her lines in a stiff and wooden way like her TV counterpart did), plot Danny's downfall.

Peter (Dan Gold), Bobby (Jake Nicholson) and Cindy Brady (Callie Johnson, who delivers all of her lines with the character's trademark lisp) are family foot soldiers who, with the exception of Cindy who is cast in the unfortunate role of Polonius, don't have a ton of stuff to do.

Bret Tuomi and Tina Gluschenko play Sam the Butcher and Alice Nelson, respectively. They essentially function as narrator/chorus and soldiers. Lines are delivered for laughs or to advance the plot. Gluschenko makes the most of the little time she has and comes across and endearing.

BWW Review: All's Well With THE BARDY BUNCHThis might be the middle child in me, but Watkins' maligned and ignored Jan was the stand-out for me. Her descent into madness (Hamlet's Ophelia if she belted out the Partridge Family tune "Doesn't Somebody Want To Be Wanted") easily shifts things from comedy to pathos and Watkins (who comes to the Chicago production from the Off-Broadway cast) is terrific in the role.

The puns come at you fast, some landing with a laugh and others a groan ("Something is rotten in the Brady Den, Mark" and "Frailty, thy name is Shirley." are two of my particular favs). Blood is spilled and, in true Shakespearean fashion, the body count is high. Your enjoyment of the evening will largely depend on your familiarity with both TV shows (I can only imagine how the different actor suddenly playing Chris Partridge plays to someone unfamiliar with the recasting, for instance) and with Shakespeare's work itself.

THE BARDY BUNCH: THE WAR OF THE FAMILIES PARTRIDGE AND BRADY runs through Nov. 20 at the Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport. Tickets, $30-$58. 773.325-1700 or mercurytheaterchicago.com. thebardybunch.com

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From This Author Misha Davenport

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