Here’s the story, of a man named Garvey . . .
Stephen Garvey grew up in Manhasset and, like most children of the ’70s, was weaned on sitcoms. One of his favorite after-school rituals was making himself a Fluffernutter (marshmallow spread and peanut butter sandwich), pouring a glass of chocolate milk and downing it all with helpings of reruns of “The Brady Bunch” and “The Partridge Family.”
“You couldn’t miss those shows back then,” says Garvey, 50.
Now, the Huntington playwright has taken his love of sitcoms and meshed it with the world of literature to create the cabaret show “Brady vs. Partridge: The Bardy Bunch!,” a mixture of cheesy and breezy ’70s tunes from both series with Shakespearean themes from “Romeo and Juliet” to “Hamlet.” The show, a pared-down version of Garvey’s show “The Bardy Bunch,” which ends its two-month Chicago run Sunday, comes to the Manhattan supper club Feinstein’s/54 Below on Oct. 29 and Nov. 4.
“The cabaret show is really a whole different beast from the Chicago show,” Garvey says. “It’s much lighter fare. People coming to the show are having a meal, so we cut out the bloodshed and some of the other things that might not be helpful to one’s appetite, but we keep the Shakespeare concept going.”
In addition to “Romeo and Juliet,” the New York show includes elements of “Hamlet,” “Macbeth” and more of the Bard’s plays, peppered with iconic Partridge and Brady tunes and pop songs like “Love Will Keep Us Together.” The plot revolves around both sitcom clans getting booked into the club on the same night and the rivalry that develops as they attempt to win the audience’s favor. Tossed in will also be all the references and images that anyone who watched either show will remember: the Partridges’ funky Revolutionary War reject outfits, Peter Brady’s Humphrey Bogart impression (“Pork chops and apple sauce”), Jan’s imaginary boyfriend George Glass, Tiger’s disappearance. And, of course, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia getting bopped on the nose with a football.
“Marcia was such a dramatic character,” Garvey says. “These dramas that go on in her life, like when she has braces or loses her diary, they’re life-or-death moments to her.”
A LAUNDRY LIST OF IDEAS
Garvey, who studied writing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, says he was “fed a lot of Shakespeare” in college, while retaining sitcom plots in his head. “It was just a matter of time before those forces collided.”
That time finally arrived six years ago, when he was doing laundry.
“I got the idea of Keith Partridge and Marcia Brady as the star-crossed lovers of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ” he says. “The idea just clicked. Before I knew it, I was thinking of all these other Brady and Partridge and Shakespeare characters. Before the first cycle was out of the washing machine and into the dryer, I had the plot line set in my head.”
In the past, Garvey says, it would have taken him about six months from the time he got an idea to completing a play. With “The Bardy Bunch,” it look less than a month. “The general outline was set, it just shot out of me,” he says. “It was almost as if I couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with the ideas.”
Once the script — which he says features multiple murders and a fair share of bloody moments — was set, he submitted it to the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival, an annual multi-arts event that often presents quirky and unusual theater offerings. Not only was the show accepted, but Garvey found a kindred spirit in his director, Jay Stern.
“Steve is a dream to work with,” says Stern. “He is so very open to collaborating and willing to throw things out and try new things. As a collaborator, he’s very trusting, and that’s rare in a playwright.”
The Fringe production sold out for all five of its performances and even attracted repeat customers, Garvey says: “People were coming back a second and third time with brothers and sisters or childhood friends to share the experience. That’s when Jay and I knew we had something bigger than we originally thought.”
Garvey — whose other plays include “Cut Me Down,” about a guy who becomes a storm chaser to win over the girl of his dreams, not realizing she’s really his worst nightmare — says he and Stern did some fundraising and made some changes to “The Bardy Bunch,” which enjoyed an Off-Broadway run at the Theatre at St. Clement’s in 2014. “My favorite story line is Danny Partridge as Hamlet filled with self doubts and emotions and conflicts after his mother remarries” band manager Reuben Kincaid, the playwright says.
That show, which the New York Times reviewer said had “the sort of index-cards-in-the-air premise that makes pop culturati smile,” enjoyed a sold-out limited run. Among those who attended the show was Garvey’s older daughter, Harper, 9 (he and his wife, Donna, have a second child, Lea, 3). He prepared Harper, then 7, for some of the nastier aspects of “The Bardy Bunch,” by taking her backstage beforehand to meet the actors and to also see how the show’s blood effects were done.
“Harper was leaning forward in her seat and thought it was great, but there is one murder I did not prepare her for,” he says. “It was the strangulation scene of a beloved character. She freaked out, and I had to take her out of the theater for a couple of minutes. I thought, ‘Great, father of the year here.’ She’s since gotten past it.”
COMING TO THE CABARET
The success of “The Bardy Bunch” prompted one of the producers to contact Jennifer Ashley Tepper, programming director at Fesintein’s/54 Below, about doing the play as a cabaret show.
“We are a supper club that presents dozens of different shows each month, many with themes related to nostalgia. Broadway stars will return to material they originated earlier in their career, casts will reunite, and music from the past will be re-imagined. We love shows like ‘The Bardy Bunch’ which take something audiences love and put a new twist on it,” she says.
In the Chicago production, Garvey says, he was limited to just using songs from the two sitcoms. Feinstein’s/54 Below has access to a much larger pool of licensed songs, so he and Stern downplayed the gorier aspects of the show and added a lot more songs beyond the sitcom world.
The two cabaret shows at Feinstein’s will also play with some new themes. In one, Peter Brady falls asleep while writing a paper on Shakespeare and the action on stage reflects his thoughts. The other performance will center on a slumber party being thrown by Marcia Brady and Laurie Partridge.
Garvey, who is hoping to mount a new Off-Broadway production of “The Bardy Bunch,” also has another of his shows in development with Skyward Productions in Washington, D.C. That one, titled “Plunge,” deals with a man who is accidentally sent to Hell and falls for a woman there. The twist comes when he’s sent to Heaven and has to figure out a way to get back to her.
Time will tell if that show captures the public as much as his Brady-Partridge mashup. Garvey, however, is enjoying his success, something he is especially happy about now that he’s hit 50.
“When I was in college, a friend of mine dragged me to see a psychic and I went begrudgingly,” he says. “The psychic told me success would come my way but not for decades. I left there so depressed. Here I am, just turned 50, and I can’t imagine being any happier than I am with my personal life, and professionally. This is a dream show for me.”