Channeling Carol Brady, Jane Lynch (center) poses with the Los Angeles cast of “The Real Live Brady Bunch,” with her friend Mari Weis (left of Lynch) as Alice, the maid. | Photo courtesy Jane Lynch
Updated: November 10, 2011 10:22AM
In this excerpt from Happy Accidents, Jane Lynch recalls a key moment in her growth as an actress, when a group of Annoyance Theater actors in Chicago somehow formed a family.
In 1990, my friend Faith Soloway asked me to join a new show. I had met Faith when she played the piano for our Second City touring company. She doesn’t read a note of music but can play just by ear and intuition. She is a master of parody and sees the goofy in everything. She and her sister Jill, who is a great writer, were as obsessed with television as I was, so they ended up creating an homage to the greatest of ’70s sitcoms (and our favorite show of all time), “The Brady Bunch.”
Our friend Mick Napier had just rented a huge, filthy storefront on the 3700 block of North Clark Street [Editor’s note: It actually was at 3153 N. Broadway]. He was calling the space the Annoyance. He offered it to the Soloway sisters on Tuesday nights to do what they would. ... The headliner was a live performance of one “Brady Bunch” episode each week in a stage show called “The Real Live Brady Bunch.” Jill created the script by watching tapes of the original TV show, rewinding constantly and typing every word. Our stage rendition was verbatim.
Faith asked me if I wanted to play Alice, the maid, or Carol, the mom. I chose to play Carol, who was played by Florence Henderson in the series, because I felt I would be a natural what with my hair color and all. I told them that my friend Mari could play Alice, because not only was her hair color correct, she actually looked like Alice. So much so that she ended up becoming a bit of a sensation. After a couple of different Mikes, Andy Richter would settle in to play Carol’s beloved husband. I had just turned 30, and all the adults playing the kids were in their late 20s and on the chubby side. Our costumes were threadbare ’70s clothes and smelly wigs from thrift shops. I fashioned a Florence Henderson shag with a few wispy pieces of blond wig hair attached to a piece of thick yellow yarn. A couple of painted plywood cubes served as our set, and we used only a few props.
On the opening Tuesday night, we had a last-minute run-through with light cues and music, got a bunch of pizzas and beer, and were sitting on the roof of the theater. All of a sudden we were shocked to see people gathering down below. There was a line snaking from the front door, down the street, and around the block — all to see “The Real Live Brady Bunch.”
The place was packed. It was a hot early summer evening and there was no air-conditioning. The converted storefront reeked of beer, smoke and BO. As we stood in our places waiting for the show to start, I could hear my own heart pounding. When the lights came up on that first scene, and we were revealed in all our “Brady” glory, the place went wild. I looked wide-eyed over to Mari, and she gave me her best Alice smirk. I gave her a beatific Carol smile in return as the Brady kids chortled in idiotically.
At seven bucks a ticket, the show was sold out every night, and we had to turn people away. Soon we started doing two shows each Tuesday, at 7 and 9, and still both performances sold out every single week. The show became a sensation and started getting national press in magazines like Rolling Stone, Newsweek and People. Everyone was happy, except Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of “The Brady Bunch.” When he heard about it, he had a cease-and-desist order sent to the Annoyance claiming copyright infringement — which was valid. It looked like he wanted to shut us down.
One Tuesday night he showed up, unannounced, in Chicago, at the dumpy Annoyance. And bully for him, he was going to see for himself what all the fuss was about before he shut us down. It was the night of the Johnny Bravo episode, where Greg Brady signs a record deal and lets fame go to his head. Sherwood Schwartz stood in the back as people were screaming out the dialogue before the show had even started. Word got out that he was in the house, and the audience starting chanting “Sher-wood, Sher-wood!” and bowing in his direction and saying “I am not worthy.”
We brought him up to the stage and introduced him, and the place went nuts. He told a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, “It was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had. I felt like a rock star — at my age!”
Seeing the show changed Schwartz’s mind. He decided we were doing it with love and respect. He declared that he would charge us only a dollar a week
as a token royalty. The show would go on.