Meet the cast of “Family Ties.” (clockwise from top left) Jim Stanek, Sarah Mackie, Eve Plumb, Lawrence Redmond, Thea Brooks and Maggie Lou Rader. Photo submitted by Scott J. Kimmins.

“Family Ties” comes to the Human Race Theatre

World premiere comedy revisits the Keatons in 2008

Daniel Goldstein had only been to Dayton once, but the visit made quite an impression.

“I came out to see ‘Snapshots’ at The Human Race Theatre some years ago and loved the theater,” explains the New York playwright. The musical, by well-known composer Stephen Schwartz, was on stage at The Loft in 2007.

“I loved the space and the people were very nice,” Goldstein recalls. “The theater was professional and elegant.” So when it was time to pick an Ohio theater for a new play he’d been commissioned to write, Goldstein immediately recommended Dayton’s 30-year-0ld professional theater company.

You’ll see the results June 1 through June 25 when the world premiere of “Family Ties” is onstage at The Loft. Goldstein’s new play is based on the popular 1980’s CBS television series “Family Ties.” The new play features the familiar characters — Steven and Elyse Keaton and their offspring — but takes place 20 years later in a 2008 setting. Because the TV show was set in Columbus, the producers liked the idea of premiering the new stage version in Ohio.

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The clever idea comes from the The Araca Group, a production company based in New York that’s been responsible for producing hits including “Wicked.” A local connection to the company is Lindsay Meck, an Oxford native who was with Araca when she helped produce “Disgraced,” the 2012 play by novelist and screenwriter Ayad Akhtar that won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and earned a Tony Award for Best Play nomination in 2015.

“Araca has had this new program and department that’s taking titles from television, movie companies, game companies and intellectual property and trying to find find ways to reinvigorate some of these shows and utilize characters that people have affection for,” says Goldstein.

Choosing the show

When Araca presented the playwright with a list of potential titles available for stage adaptation, Goldstein was quick to select “Family Ties,” a show he’d always loved — and related to — when he was growing up. The show portrays a close-knit family with conflicting politics. “The parents are super-hippie liberals and Alex is a Reagan-loving Republican,” Goldstein says. Most of the comedy arose from the conflict between the liberal parents and the conservative children.

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“It was funny, the characters were interesting and it didn’t feel like your average everyday sit-com,” he remembers. “There was something deeper going on. When you see the reruns the material holds up. It takes place in the Reagan years and so much of what the Keatons were going through is present right now.”

Goldstein’s challenge was to come up with a pitch for a stage version. “I didn’t want to just put together the TV episodes, I wanted it to be modern day,” he says. “So I came up with the idea of where this family might be now and what events might bring a family together 20 years later.”

In his play, Alex P. Keaton, the Michael Fox character, is now running for Congress and returns to his parents’ Columbus home with his sisters, Mallory and Jennifer, who are parents of their own. There are flashbacks to some of the iconic moments from their childhood.

“Not everyone in the audience will know the television show, ” Goldstein acknowledges, “but everyone will relate to the exploration of what it’s like to become a parent, to become the grownup when you’re used to being the kid. Alex is now 41 and coming into his own.”

Goldstein says he hopes the play will help the audience to focus on someone other than themselves and understand where others are coming from. “Our world is so ‘me’ centered,” he adds.

Eve Plumb will play Elyse Keyton

Fans of the TV classic “The Brady Bunch” will be delighted to learn that Elyse Keyton will be portrayed by Eve Plumb, who played middle daughter Jan Brady in the popular 1970’s sitcom. Plum made television history with the iconic line — “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” — that centered around her jealousy of her older sister.

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“A good sit-com mixes humor with pathos,”says the actress, adding that both “Family Ties” and “The Brady Bunch” succeeded in accomplishing that goal. These days shows like “Modern Family” and “The Middle” do the same, she says. “In long-running shows like ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ you get to see the characters develop over time. People get attached to them.”

A devoted TV fan, Plumb believes there’s a lot of “good stuff” on today. “There’s a lot to be learned, I watch a lot of documentaries,” she adds.

Plumb began acting as a child and has worked in TV, film and on stage ever since. She was attracted to the stage version of “Family Ties” because it seemed like an interesting new piece of theater — not merely stage versions taken from the original TV scripts.

“We’ve all watched the original series because we want to capture the flavor of the show,” she says. “We don’t want to impersonate the characters but we do want to preserve the family banter and the exploration of what family members mean to one another. “

An interesting side-note: Plumb once portrayed “Beth” in a television adaptation of “Little Women” with Meredith Baxter in the role of Meg. Baxter played Elyse in TV’s “Family Ties.”

Plumb says she now understands her profession and the job of acting much than she did as a child. She enjoys being in a new theater piece because it’s a “blank slate.”

The challenge of being on stage in a show that runs for weeks, she says, is to maintain focus.

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“Our brains are so amazing,” she observes. “Like when you are driving and you realize you’ve pulled up at home but don’t know how you got there. That can happen on a stage after a while. You have to stay focused and not become distracted by other things that may happen.”

When Plumb isn’t acting, she’s painting still-life, restaurant scenes. “I can’t control acting but I can control the painting,” she says.

And what does she hope people will take away from seeing this version of “Family Ties?” “I hope the audience will leave with a happy memory of the show and will be happy to revisit it,” she says. “It will be like going to a family reunion.”

Broadway’s Jim Stanek is Alex

Even without seeing the script of “Family Ties,” actor Jim Stanek said “I’m in!”

Stanek, who understudied Michael Cerveris on Broadway in the Tony-award winner musical “Fun Home,” loved “Family Ties” on TV so much that he jumped at the chance to play the Michael J. Fox character.

“The play really captures the essence of the show,” he says. “It does depict some excerpts from the TV show in flashbacks but it’s a contemporary new story that’s being told at the same time. Even if you don’t know ‘Family Ties,’ this show tells a beautiful story about family. “

Stanek, who grew up in Pittsburgh and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, discovered theater through television. “My family got HBO and they used to film live theater productions,” he recalls. “It’s hard to put into words but there was something so immediate about it, an energy.”

He ended up playing the leading role in “Fun Home” 40 times on Broadway. “Being an understudy is like jumping on a moving train,” he says. “There’s an energy there among all of the people in the cast that you have to match.”

He began acting in seventh grade. ” I tried to play musical instruments, I tried to play sports, I got into trouble — but none of those provided the attention I was looking for,” he says. “I was bullied a lot as a kid; I was a geek and a nerd. But after my first acting performance, some of the kids who’d bullies me came up and said I was pretty good. Theater became a family that continues to nurture you.”

That theater family has nurtured Stanek for the past 20 years. “Being an understudy is like jumping on a moving train,” he says about the role in “Fun Home” that he played 40 times on Broadway. “There’s an energy there among all of the people in the cast that you have to match.”

At the moment, he’s excited about re-creating Alex on stage for the first time. As a teen, he says, Alex had a big ego and a lot of charm. “He’s matured since then and what’s changed is how he looks at the big picture,” he says. “He’s about to enter a new era of selflessness — or isn’t he?”

Stanek says most actors will tell you that comedy is the most challenging form of theater. “You’re tempted to make things funny rather than just let them be funny,” he says. “Usually the best stories are a bit of both comedy and drama.”

He’s hoping Dayton audiences will laugh but also need some tissues as they watch this version of “Family Ties.”

“I want them to take away the importance of knowing where you came from and which people shaped who you are — whether that be your immediate family or the people you’ve chosen to be your family,” he says.

Goldstein hopes audiences will revisit characters they think they know and see them in a different way. “I hope the play will offer them the opportunity to re-embrace their own family,” he says. “No matter what’s happening in the world, your family is who you’ve got.”

“Family Ties” is directed by Kevin Moore. The six-member cast also includes Lawrence Redmond, Thea Brooks, Sara Mackie and Maggie Lou Rader.

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