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Story of a Clan Named Brady, Again : New Film Version of the TV Series Casts Look-alikes and Some of the Original Stars

November 02, 1994|ANNE BERGMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Director Betty Thomas calls for action from her perch behind the camera, and at her command shimmery silver curtains part, music begins to boom to a disco beat and six kids dressed in a rainbow's array of fringed polyester jumpsuits lope on stage at a high school auditorium in Woodland Hills.

The kids sing, perkily, "You've got to keep on dancin' all through the night," for the umpteenth take, flashing their white teeth and pumping their fists in the air with contagious energy. "Keep on doin' it riii-iiight!," they sing, inspiring Thomas to hop out of her director's chair to begin dancing with the script supervisor.

It could only be the big-screen reincarnation of America's favorite family in bell-bottoms, the Brady Bunch.

Chirping the same sugary pop song that-- remember ?--helped win the clan enough money for mom and dad's anniversary present, the Bradys are set, with the release next year of the Paramount film "The Brady Bunch," to become the latest in boomer culture recycling.

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The film, based on the ABC show that ran in prime time from 1969-1974, began shooting in July in various locations around the Valley, staying true to the show's staunchly suburban roots. Even the outfits from this day's shoot are modeled on ones the Bradys wore when they took the road in February, 1973, for their concert tour (which was separate from the show).

Here's the story: A lovely lady (Shelley Long), a man named Brady (Gary Cole) and their six children (three girls--hers, and three boys--his) live in the '90s, while trying to keep both their '70s moral and aesthetic sensibilities intact. In the Brady world, mom and dad do know best, honesty is the best policy, and there's nothing a home-baked cookie can't cure.

"Mike and Carol always had time for their kids and their problems," says Long of the Brady family values, "And there's such a bond between the parents, you begin to understand why they could be so supportive of their family."

To top it all off, the Bradys still dress '70s: Mike has a perm, Greg some far-out sideburns, and all the Bradys sport platform shoes. "Oh Lord, the clothes," groans Long, "they made me wear this polyester pant suit which I swore I'd burn. I put it on and thought, 'Oh no!' "

A visit to the Encino home refurbished to look like the Bradys' famous ranch-style is like stepping into a time warp: No bars on the windows or satellite dishes attached to the roof, a 1971 neon blue convertible Olds Cutlass parked in the driveway.

And it's this very Brady bubble that's threatened by the reality of the '90s, for the house sits on land coveted by an evil real estate agent (Michael McKean), anxious to bulldoze it and build a mini-mall in its stead.

Meanwhile, all three of the original Brady boys and one Brady girl--Barry Williams, Christopher Knight, Mike Lookinland and Susan Olsen--and original Alice Ann B. Davis make cameos, as do three of the Monkees and drag queen RuPaul.

Olsen, who played the youngest girl, Cindy, on the original Bradys, plays a disgruntled postal worker in the movie. "I thought the script was really funny," she says on why she agreed to take the part, "and I couldn't have read it with a worse attitude because I thought it was going to be awful.

"There were a lot of scenes I personally wanted to see. The Bradys were a bunch of dorks, lovable dorks, but still dorks. So having us in the '90s just as innocent and dorky was great. I always wanted to see someone go up to Cindy and say: 'Why don't you know how to talk?' "

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By far the most inspired casting was of the kids themselves, who all bear an uncanny resemblance to the original Bradys.

"We think of them as the 'real' Bradys," said Thomas, of the ideals she was looking for during casting. "We said they're going to have to walk in the room and look like the Bradys that we know and love."

Jennifer Cox, 19, who plays Jan, the tormented middle sister, prepared for her audition by watching tapes of the show, dressing '70s and going to a hairdresser to achieve that perfect Eve Plumb/Jan look: long, straight white-blond hair, tightly pulled back, with a tiny curl on each side of her face.

"I instantly felt like Jan," Cox said, "and my mom kept telling me, 'Just remember, you are Jan!' "

Christopher Barnes, 22, who plays Greg, got a chance to meet his counterpart when Barry Williams made his cameo appearance, as a record producer.

"It was the first day, the first shot," Barnes said, "and I didn't want to offend him, but I had to know how to play Greg, so I asked, 'How geeky would Greg be?' Barry was really helpful, actually."

Olsen describes her encounter with the movie Cindy--played by Olivia Hack, 11, as "surreal."

"It really threw me off when she went into character," Olsen said, "she was doing a very good Cindy. She had studied it, had gotten the lisp down, which for me unfortunately was real."

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