“Have I Been Lifted?”

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New York Times
November 8, 2008
Music Review | Florence Henderson
Pondering if Carol Brady Ever Had Any Work Done

It takes comedic chutzpah for a 74-year-old star to open a show with a pre-emptive piece of special material about plastic surgery. But chutzpah, or its Southern variation, true grit, is a quality Florence Henderson possesses in abundance.

“Have I Been Lifted?” a cheerful song about cosmetic procedures, with music by Ms. Henderson’s musical director, Glen Roven, and lyrics by Bruce Vilanch, poses but doesn’t answer all the unspoken questions about possible “work” that audiences might ask themselves when studying Ms. Henderson’s remarkably youthful face.

In her show, “All the Lives of Me … A Musical Journey,” Ms. Henderson reviews her life, from her impoverished childhood as the youngest of 10 children growing up in Kentucky in a sharecropping family to fame and fortune. Almost magically, she was transported to leading-lady status on Broadway. In 1969 “The Brady Bunch,” the television juggernaut, immortalized her as Carol Brady, the supermom of a blended family.

At Thursday’s performance, in an engagement that ends on Saturday, Ms. Henderson let it be known that she is less than overjoyed that her television fame has totally eclipsed her renown as a performer of musical comedy.

“The Brady Bunch,” nevertheless, looms larger than anything else in the show, during which she answers audience questions submitted ahead of time. The intrusiveness of a couple of those questions on Thursday suggested that the stars of family sitcoms seen in millions of living rooms tend to be viewed as intimate relatives by fans for whom the boundaries between fiction and reality disappear.

Ms. Henderson sets the record straight about the history of “South Pacific.” In her view its current production at Lincoln Center is not the first major revival since 1949, as has been claimed. In 1967, she reminded the audience, she played Nellie Forbush (opposite Giorgio Tozzi) in a Lincoln Center revival that at the time was officially considered an Off Broadway production.

If Ms. Henderson is still so youthful-looking that she could almost play Nellie today, her voice is not as well kept. On Thursday her grainy, occasionally wobbling rendition of “A Wonderful Guy,” as well as of other songs, revealed the ravages of time that in many other respects seems to have been held at bay.

Florence Henderson appears on Saturday at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, 540 Park Avenue, at 61st Street; (212) 339-4095, feinsteinsattheregency.com.