The Brady Bunch was on television from 1969 to 1974, which exactly coincides with my high school years. That made me way too cool for the Brady Brunch. We didn’t watch Brady Brunch, in fact, we mocked it. I remember we even had a TV-themed winter carnival at my high school, where the Brady Brunch was the loser team. It was much better to be on the cool M*A*S*H team.
But even though we insisted we didn’t watch Brady Bunch, there only three channels to choose from and the Brady Bunch was certainly visible.
So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised on the opening night of “Florence Henderson: All the Lives of Me”, at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia, when I knew all the lyrics to the theme song as she invited everyone to sing along. And when they showed clips of the Brady Bunch, I remembered the “pork chops and apple sauce” episode.
I went to the show thinking I was pretty ambivalent about Florence Henderson – I know she had been a leading lady on Broadway and she was the famous Mrs. Brady, but other than that, I didn’t know much about her and frankly didn’t care one way or the other if I saw her show.
But off we went, and she won me over. It was like having a visit with a very charming aunt. And that’s the best way to describe her: she is charming.
The evening begins with an introduction from her music director, Glen Roven. We see a movie spanning Florence’s life, clips from various stage productions, and of course TV. Apparently, she made a lot of commercials for Wesson Oil and Polident (and yes, those are her real teeth – she didn’t have dentures, she just did it for the money.)
Then Florence comes on stage. The entrance applause is loud and long. She tells her story in various stages, sings songs, and answers questions from the audience. It’s a lovely visit. Now 79 years old, she still looks remarkably like the Carol Brady we remember. She makes her audience very comfortable by simply chatting about her life. She tells some naughty jokes, talks comfortably and appears unrehearsed.
Her childhood is fascinating – she grew up dirt poor in Kentucky. He father didn’t marry until he was 50, when he married a 25 year old. Then they had 10 kids – Florence was the youngest, born when her father was 70. Her dad was a farmer/moonshiner, who drank a little too much of his own product. Early on in her life, Florence sang for the grocer to get free food for the family.
In her last year of high school, she starred in their musical, where her best friend’s parents saw her. They gave her the money to go to the American Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in New York. From there she got work on Broadway and the rest is history.
She auditioned for Rogers & Hammerstein and landed the role of Laurie in Oklahoma! She dearly wanted to play the same part in the movie version, but as she put it “That bitch Shirley Jones got it.” But then she goes on to say that she and Shirley are good friends. (Very fitting that the Brady Mom and the Partridge Mom should be friends.)
Florence goes over many career highlights, such as playing Nellie Forbush in South Pacific at the Lincoln Centre, or playing opposite Ricardo Montalban in The King & I. She has everyone spellbound just talking about her career. Then she moves on to her children – she has 4. When the fourth came along, a friend asked her if she was Catholic or oversexed. Florence answered, “Both!” She also talks about her husbands – she had 2.
Then she moves on to her television career: the Brady Bunch. It is never been off TV in the USA, and it’s now showing in 122 countries! With that much television success, after much coaxing, she appeared on Dancing with the Stars in 2010.
For this tour, Florence brings her own musicians. Glen Roven is at the grand piano, accompanied by a cello player and a flute/oboe/sax player. Two young women sing back up. Roven is an interesting musical director: a four-time Emmy winner, he is a composer, lyricist, conductor, and pianist who has worked with Broadway stars like Patti Lupone, Liza Minnelli and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Florence’s singing voice is still strong, and she wisely chooses songs that don’t have big range. Nonetheless, when the tune demanded she stretch for a high note, she came through.
Victoria Playhouse is on its way to selling out Florence Henderson’s entire run. The audience loves her, even before she speaks and sings. And it’s apparent she loves the audience right back. It’s a relaxed, comfortable evening with a charming entertainer who makes everyone feel at home. She’s simply charming.
All the Lives of Me continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until October 20. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 for tickets or visit www.thevpp.ca
Florence Henderson: All the Lives of Me
Musical direction by Glen Roven
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
October 8 to 20, 2013
Reviewed by Mary Alderson