Family Ties will satisfy those who hold a special place in their heart for the Keaton’s.
If there’s anything I’m an expert of, it would be TV shows. A large percentage of my life has been spent in front of the small screen watching a wide variety of programs (except for ‘Imaginary Mary’). On the short list of my all-time favorite sitcoms is ‘Family Ties,’ so I was thrilled that it was being brought back to life with a play at The Loft. Whenever a beloved series is restored though, there’s a risk that it will fall short of the set expectations. Fans of ‘Baywatch’ are leaving theatres disappointed with the recent movie, but this staged version of Family Ties will satisfy those who hold a special place in their heart for the Keaton’s.
The play is set in 2008, and Alex, Mallory, and Jennifer return to their childhood home for an event honoring their father, Steven. Fans of Family Ties will recall frequent episodes that featured clips from past shows as the Keaton’s would reminisce. This staged version is no different as a large percentage of its 80 minute run time is spent remembering the past, as some classic moments are reenacted. All of the cast so totally embodies their characters it feels just like watching the original series.
While Steve Urkel isn’t very far behind, one of my all-time favorite television characters is Alex P. Keaton, so Jim Stanek had big shoes…err a big suit to fill with his portrayal of the role. It would be no surprise to me if Stanek and Fox didn’t share some strands of DNA. From the tilts in his voice to his physical mannerisms, Stanek is perfect in every way as Alex. If there is ever a stage version of ‘Back to the Future’ or even ‘Spin City,’ it would be a crime if Stanek doesn’t get the part. It should come as no surprise that the character of Alex has entered the world of politics and is running for Congress. If only our real politicians were more like Alex P. Keaton.
It’s a true credit to the entire production that I’ve made it to the fourth paragraph without a single mention of ‘The Brady Bunch,’ which I hold on a level all by itself. I have not also only seen every episode of ‘The Brady Bunch,’ I could recite them all too. I would attend a performance of Eve Plumb (Jan Brady) reading the telephone book, but her being in Family Ties is a much better option. Plumb acts as a true architect, as she builds a masterful portrayal of Elyse Keaton. In all seriousness I entered full of excitement to watch Plumb perform, but after a few minutes in I totally forgot who she was. It’s no simple task to erase a Brady from my mind, but all I saw was Elyse. I do however wish there was a line in the script where she said, “Mallory, Mallory, Mallory!” I’ll settle though for the impersonation of ‘The Fonz.’ A strong point of the series Family Ties was the special bond between Elyse and Alex, and both actors keep that up in the play.
Equally excellent is Lawrence Redmond as Steven, Thea Brooks as the dimwitted Mallory, Sara Mackie as Jennifer and Maggie Loue Rader is beautifully radiant as Ellen. The episodes they portray flashbacks to include one of the classics, when Alex and Ellen dance to ‘At This Moment’ and then meet up at the train station. It’s a television moment that has always stuck with me for its emotional wallop, and it’s just as powerful in this production. Another highlight is the remembrance of when Alex turned 18 and went off to Wheeling to celebrate without parental permission, and Elyse went to bring him back home. The brilliance of Stanek and Plumb are truly evident in these scenes.
The work of the set designers often get overlooked, at least by me, but not this time as Tamara Honesty outdid herself in resembling the look of the Keaton’s house. I felt as if I had stepped through my television and was in their living room (and kitchen) as every detail was so spot on. The set essentially plays just a big of part as the cast as it sets the mood for the trip down memory lane.
Absent from the play is the youngest Keaton, Andy, and Mallory’s husband, Nick, both of whom are mentioned but there are no references to Skippy. There is also a big twist at the end, which I did not see coming, and left me slightly confused but delivers the touch of emotional sentiment that Family Ties is known for.
Fans of Family Ties should not miss this revival, nor should anyone with an appreciation for unity within a family, as it’s what the Keaton’s represent. Family Ties, a play by Daniel Goldstein, continues at The Loft through June 25. In the spirit of recalling television greatness from the past, the best way to end this review is with the words…Sit Ubu sit, good dog.