Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
December 18, 2007.
Think of it this way: about forty years ago,
you land a job. It's a good job and you feel lucky to get it. You like it.
Everybody else likes you in it. It's a good gig.
You stay at this job for about five years, then you move on.
The only problem is this: you're already gone, but the world is still
tugging at your sleeve. They don't want you to go. In fact, the entire
planet becomes obsessed with that one job you've held, for a mere five years,
almost forty years ago.
Everywhere you go, you are asked about it. They remember everything you did
during your employment, down to the things you said. They bring it up to you
no matter where you go in life, no matter what you do. You are asked the
same questions, by thousands of admiring people, for decades to come, about
that one job.
You continue to work at other gigs, and you even do amazing things, like
play professional tennis and appear in theatrical national touring
companies. Yet nobody will separate you from that one distant, once-held
job. Long after you were fired from it, the job continues to stay with you,
but not the paycheck. You can barely even remember it the way the rest of
the world does. Yet you must remain patient and cordial with the people who
ask you about it, and forever accepting of it.
As Karl Malden used to say in those American Express ads, "What do you do?
What. Do. You. Do?"
Ask Barry Williams. This is more or less his story, and now he's bringing
some of that story to off-Broadway, in a revue that celebrates the Me
Decade, and for Williams, the Other-Me Decade. It's called Growing Up 70s,
which addresses the five years when Williams had That Job, and then some.
Up 70s is all things seventies," he explains, "and we touch upon
references from just about every aspect of the decade. The fashion, the
styles, the music, the movies, a lot of television, the commercials, the
Lotsa singing and dancing, with a full cast of
kids who were not yet born during the duration of Williams' first job.
It was he who played oldest sibling Greg Brady on the beloved The Brady
Bunch. In the decades since, he has more than come to terms with his
fate, on his terms. He has turned lumpy lemons into lovilicious lemonade.
"The only time I actively fought against it was immediately after the show
because it was interfering with my ability to get work," he says. "That's
really been my only problem with it. What I found was an alternative to
television, which was musical theater. I've become very active in theater.
I've done 75 productions since then. I started working in New York and on
Broadway, and also Broadway national tours. My work really remained
consistent and it really wasn't pulling on Greg Brady."
Though The Brady Bunch never even once cracked the Top Ten in the
ratings during its original run, the sitcom remained on ABC from 1969-1974
and left its paw print on that viewing generation.
It was the last of its kind: the warm, gentle, one-camera family comedy with
a low-energy laugh track. The world moved on in a big way after its
cancellation. However, the Bunch remained in special places, close to the
heart and on the brain. As years passed, more and more people were born, and
they watched it in endless reruns on UHF and eventually on cable. It became
a phenomenon in syndication, and an official pop culture staple. Nothing
like it was ever seen again. It was nice and easy, but in ugly contrast, TV
families from that
point forward nevah, evah did nothin' nice
and easy. They did it instead like Ike and Tina Turner: nice. And rough.
"Once I was comfortable in knowing that I had a career outside the show," he
says, "I never looked back. I have always been proud of
it. My gosh,
we've had four different series, nine different reunions, books, movies,
plays, concerts, even the cartoon show. If I wanted to get away from it, I
really never would have done a Brady again. I'm very comfortable with that,
and this show [Growing Up 70s] indeed is right on purpose. I talk a
lot about The Brady Bunch, and what typecasting has done and how it
has affected me and what it means. Also, the impact that it has had certainly
nationally but globally as well. The fact that we've been on in each of five
successive decades and the episodes aired 175,000 times... a piece. That's a
lot of reinforcement in one character. So I make peace with it or go box
Williams did what he could to change with the times, to escape that era of
bell-bottom jeans and wildly patterned shirts, but there was still an
element of entrapment. He continued working as a good actor, in good
projects. However, America's obsession with The Brady Bunch, as well
as the decade in which it was first broadcast, has given him the
if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em shrug of the shoulders, and a pass for this
new stage production.
"I've been in front of America almost my entire life," he says (he had a
full acting resume even before The Brady Bunch). "I like people. It's
a great icebreaker. I, of course, want to move beyond Greg Brady; otherwise,
I'm sitting down to dinner doing an interview. I find most people to be
quite pleasant, and they share their experience with the show with me. I'm
grateful to have that relationship with so many people. I can talk to the
bus driver. I can talk to the gal in the grocery store. They do feel like
they know me."
This is not the first time that Williams rode the giant Brady wave after the
fact. His memoir about his experiences on the show, Growing Up Brady: I
Was A Teenage Greg, was a national bestseller in 1992, spawning a TV
movie and a lot of buzz.
"Over the decades," he says, "I was answering a limited body of questions. I
could never really give a complete answer because in television or radio
shows you can only really give a sound bite. I realized, twenty-five years
later, that people are asking me the same questions, and that there must be
some real deeply seated interest in what happened to Tiger [the family dog],
for instance. So, I told the story. I knew almost from the beginning of what
I was going to write about, but then it was the process of actually sitting
down and writing. It took over two years to do. I had a lot of clearances to
get and I had over 140 pictures in it. It was a big project, but I did, I
think, give my take on what it was like to grow up on the small screen and
in front of America."
Though the critics have never been kind to the Bunch, and the generation
that grew up with it will often love it by sometimes hating it, Williams
seems to have figured out all of its simple complexities.
"I let people have their own experience of it," he says. "I'm often times
told just how meaningful the show was to someone's development and growth as
an alternative to the horrible family conditions that they had, and that it
could be a different way. Many people learned how to speak English watching
The Brady Bunch. It was a role model and an identifier for literally
millions of people, whether you're the oldest or the youngest or the middle
child. There is someone in the show to relate and identify with. Even though
the critics were routinely harsh on our show, it found its audience, and I
think that has its own depth and its own meaning."
So then, what was it exactly? Why this show, and why forever?
"I think that there was a genuine chemistry that we had," he answers,
probably for the millionth time. "That could be as accountable as anything
for its continued success. We genuinely like each other. Those friendships
remain intact to this day. That is something that is just not faked. It
cannot be directed or written. The producer, Sherwood Schwartz, wanted us to
basically be real kids. Of course, under heightened circumstances --
exaggerated circumstances and idealized. But we weren't caricatures. There
wasn't the smart alec and the brain and the beauty and the intellectual and
the nerd. Just people growing up and going through the stages of life. And I
think those elements, the morality, the communication, the theme of our show
Yet timeless does not always free you from the
time warp. Williams does the time warp again, on Sirius radio (six days a
week, from 2-6 p.m. EST, Sunday through Friday, on “The Barry Williams Show”).
"It's on the Totally Seventies Channel, Channel 7 on Sirius," he says, "and
it is seventies music. I'm a DJ. [I play] Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel, Jim
Croce, Donna Summer and The Trampps. Also Bob Seger. A lot of Elton John; a
lot of Fleetwood Mac. In between the songs, I'm commenting on everything from pop
culture to references of the day to my own experience with many of the
artists. I shared stages with Tony Orlando, for instance. I remember seeing
The Moody Blues on one of their first tours, just when ‘Nights In White
Satin’ became a hit, so I'll share my experience with being at the
As far as the Growing Up 70s revue, it all comes together for
Williams, both righteously and outa-sighteously. It combines his love of
theater with the most identifiable characteristics of his alter ego.
"Musical theater is a combination of drama, comedy, theatricality, and the
heightened intensity of music," he says. "In a theatrical circumstance, this
is my favorite combination. Essentially, moving into song in musical
theater, it takes a dramatic moment and intensifies it, heightens it. That's
what draws me to it. That combination of elements. It has given me a lot of
frequent flyer miles over the years, because for so many of the shows I've
done tours. I did the Broadway national tour of City of Angels and
The Sound of Music.
Up 70s is a new show, so we're kind of feeling it out to see how it
works. We're looking for audience response, how we feel it plays. It's
off-Broadway, so we don't have quite the Broadway pressure here. There are
170 seats, so it's very intimate. We're not trying to make it anything that
it's not. It's a good, fun, solid family entertainment."
Just like that one job Williams used to have.
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Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
December 18, 2007.