Review: ‘Florence Henderson’

Florence Henderson

Charm, song and forthright honesty are hallmarks of Florence Henderson's lite-biographical show "All the Lives of Me." The enjoyable 80- minute "musical journey" from one of America's favorite TV moms moves into Feinstein's at the Regency with ease.

Charm, song and forthright honesty are hallmarks of Florence Henderson’s lite-biographical show “All the Lives of Me.” The enjoyable 80- minute “musical journey” from one of America’s favorite TV moms moves into Feinstein’s at the Regency with ease.

Henderson takes her title and theme from the Peter Allen song, recently reprised by Hugh Jackman in “The Boy From Oz.” Daughter of a dirt-poor sharecropper, she outlines her path from Depression-era Kentucky to Hollywood. Singing was a major component from her earliest days; her mother used to take the 3-year-old to the local general store and instruct her to stand on the counter and sing for groceries. (Henderson’s voice and personality always seemed to do the trick.)

The parents of a wealthy schoolmate staked her to tuition at American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, and at 18 she had a small role on Broadway. Within months she was discovered by Richard Rodgers, who cast her in revivals of most of his classic musicals over the next 16 years.

In “Eight Shows a Week,” a piece of special material by Glen Roven (Henderson’s musical director) and Bruce Vilanch, Henderson comments on the paradox of her career: after many years starring on Broadway, “one season on television and 100 million people know your name.”

After five seasons plus 30 years of worldwide syndication of “The Brady Bunch,” she is an iconic presence; her earlier life as a Broadway singing star counts for little. When she invites questions from audience members, even at the venerable Park Avenue nitery, they want to know about Jan, Marcia and housekeeper Alice rather than her roles in Josh Logan’s “Fanny” and Noel Coward’s “The Girl Who Came to Supper.”

Henderson strings her story with songs, some of which only peripherally illustrate their point. She still sings comfortably, although at 74 she has developed some pitch problems. (Roven backs her with a reed player, a cellist and a vocalist who augments Henderson on just about every sustained note — which helps considerably.) Many of the songs are mere fragments, although some — like the “Brady Bunch” title tune, in a sing-along — get full play.

She is at her best with “A Wonderful Guy,” from “South Pacific.” She tartly comments on the current “first major New York revival” of the show, noting that she headlined the major New York revival Rodgers himself produced at Lincoln Center in 1969. (She holds up the original cast album, as proof.)

Highlight of the act, though, is the star’s story-telling. Direct and matter-of-fact throughout, she relates old, dirty jokes from Kentucky; notes with bemusement that the infamous womanizer Rodgers never laid a hand on her; and calls Noel Coward “a kind, kind, wonderful, vicious gentleman.”

Florence Henderson

Feinstein's; 140 capacity; $75 top, plus $40 minimum

Production

Presented inhouse. Opened, reviewed Nov. 5, 2008; closes Nov. 8.

Cast

Band: Glen Roven, Julie Ferrara, Cynthia Leigh Heim, Laura Bontrager.
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