Marian in “The Music Man.” Laurey in “Oklahoma!” Julie in “Carousel.”
It’s an accomplished and iconic career by all standards. And, at 82, Oscar-winning actress and lauded American songstress Shirley Jones is ready to add one more role to her list: as herself, in the world premiere stage production of “Have You Met Miss Jones.”
“It’s showcasing my whole life,” Jones said during a lunch break in rehearsals recently at the New Theatre Restaurant rehearsal space, as she daintily ate her meal of salmon and rice. “I tell the story of my life, how I got into show business, my two husbands and, of course, we show a lot of photographs.
“It goes through everything.”
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The two-hour show, opening Sept. 22, covers Jones’ career from her breakout role in the film “Oklahoma!” to her days as the matriarch on TV’s “The Partridge Family” to her expansive stage work. It touches upon her family history, including her first marriage to Jack Cassidy (whose son David played her eldest on “Partridge Family”) and her second marriage to comedian Marty Ingels.
The show is certainly a family affair: her son Patrick Cassidy, known for his theater work, plays himself and serves as a sort of narrator in “Have You Met Miss Jones.” Her son Shaun Cassidy (the 1970s teen heartthrob pop star who also starred on “The Hardy Boys”) wrote the script.
Two younger performers play a young Jones and Jack Cassidy, and while Jones doesn’t sing a great deal, she tells stories about her personal and professional life, including her Oscar-winning turn as a prostitute in 1960’s “Elmer Gantry.”
“Have You Met Miss Jones” is not the first collaboration for mother and son: Jones and Patrick Cassidy starred in the 2004 Broadway revival of “42nd Street.” Following that run, they eventually merged separate solo acts.
“We started incorporating more together, doing interviews together, and not only enjoy working together, but we found that the audience enjoyed it more when we were playing off each other and singing songs together — merely because she was my mother and I was her son,” Cassidy said during that same lunch break, eating two salmon lunches after a hard morning of rehearsals. (Director Richard Maltby, who joined them for lunch, joked “he’s a growing boy,” one of many barbs they traded throughout the interview, like old friends.)
But the catalyst for “Have You Met Miss Jones” came from a 2012 production of “The Music Man,” where Jones starred as Mrs. Paroo (Marian’s mother) and Cassidy wooed her stage daughter as Harold Hill. At the end of each performance, Jones told stories of the making of the 1962 film. The audience response motivated Cassidy to write a hybrid concert version, with a full cast performing the musical numbers and Jones telling stories throughout.
After touring that show in 2014, Cassidy thought, why not create a whole show out of his mother’s life and career?
And “Have You Met Miss Jones” was born.
New Theatre owner Richard Carrothers had approached Jones and Cassidy for a 2014 production of “Harvey.” (The lead role of Elwood P. Dowd eventually went to Judge Reinhold, who left the production before it opened. He was replaced by Charles Shaughnessy.)
However, “Harvey” lacks the well-developed female characters Jones likes to play, so she wasn’t interested. But, on the fly, Cassidy pitched their newly developed show to Carrothers, who offered his theater as the premiere location.
Maltby, who won a Tony Award for directing “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ,” signed on to the new show as soon as he heard the cast. His first reaction: “Shirley Jones? Sure,” he said. (It certainly helped that Patrick, Shaun and Carrothers handpicked Maltby to direct.)
“When we met, she came into the restaurant, and I looked right past her looking for the 82-year-old,” Maltby said. “Then I realized, ‘Oh, that’s her.’ ”
Maltby said he quickly fell in love with the talented Jones/Cassidy family and their stories. (His daughter Charlotte Maltby plays a young Jones in the show.)
“There’s so much heart and so much love in Shirley’s life,” he said. “What’s moving about the show, I think, is that. Sometimes you’re moved because people triumph over tragedies, and sometimes you’re moved because people always face life with so much resilience and joy and hope. Just like with any love affair, how can you describe what it is?”
Although Jones said her age prevents her from singing some of the higher-range songs, she doesn’t seem to be letting her age stop her much. She was in rehearsals for “Have You Met Miss Jones” almost eight hours a day, six days a week, and when someone upstairs played the theme song to “The Partridge Family” during the interview, she gamely started singing the lyrics and giggled.
While Jones and Cassidy are used to playing opposite each other as other characters, “it’s a whole other cup of tea” to essentially play themselves onstage, Jones said. Maltby, who’s developed the show as much through Jones’ and Cassidy’s offhand comments as through the script, said the show is deeper because of that.
“We all have the Shirley Jones we know who played the iconic roles, but there’s a person that goes along with it, surprisingly paralleling some of the musicals you did,” he said to Jones. “It really is a full and wonderful life, with things we all relate to. It has taken me into places that shows don’t usually take you to.”
“Sometimes I just find myself full of tears, and the memories start flowing back,” Jones added. “When they sing songs I sang with Jack Cassidy, the father of my kids, I tear up. I just lost Marty in October; those things do get to me. … But then I feel how wonderful it is that the public gets to know who these men were and how dear they both were to me.”
Cassidy said the production has proved healing. He used to view his mother’s life as if she were Cinderella but later realized it was more tragic. Jones’ own father and Patrick’s father, Jack, both died at 49 years old, and she has had a rough time since Ingels died.
But it’s not all sad memories in the show: In one scene, Jones recalls how she asked Ingels to marry her — because she didn’t think he would ever work up the courage to propose.
“If you’re a boy from Brooklyn, this is the unattainable,” Maltby said, nodding to Jones.
“He was afraid,” Jones said. “He started to cry.”
“I know what the reason was,” Maltby said. “For him, it’s like, ‘This does not happen in my life.’ ”
In true Shirley Jones fashion (she released a candid autobiography in 2013 touching on, among other things, her sex life), she doesn’t shy away from telling intimate facts.
“I knew it was going to be a therapy session, because you’re forced to look at stuff in your life,” Cassidy said. “And that, I think, is the backbone of this show. It’s about a family, and about a woman who was the staple of that family.”
He said he and brother Shaun wanted the show to be a gift to their mother after her long career, through which she always put her family first.
“If this ends up being the last thing she ends up doing before she retires, it will be a very prestigious, classy, emotional evening that is a testament to her and a tribute to her and her life,” he said. “That’s what I want from it.”
“It’s a real life story,” Jones said, “and it’s got happiness and sadness and a little bit of everything involved.”
As for the future of the show after its New Theatre run, the three declined to say. Right now, they’re focused on performing it the best they can here, and then see what happens.
“We haven’t even thought about it yet,” Jones said, laughing.
“Where shows go is really out of our hands,” Maltby said. “Shows go where they want to go, and it depends on whether we have the reaction we hope we have. If lots of people love to see it here, then lots of people will love to see it all over the place.”
Also new this week
▪ “Moulin Rouge: A Staged Reading,” through Sept. 26 at the Buffalo Room in the Westport Flea Market, 817 Westport Road. Due to popular demand, Stuffed Buffalo Productions brings back its staged version of the 2001 Baz Luhrmann musical. See westportfleamarket.com/the-buffalo-room or the venue’s Facebook event.
▪ “Beatlesjuice,” Sept. 23 through Oct. 31 at Late Night Theatre at Missie B’s, 805 W. 39th St. The company reimagines the 1988 Tim Burton film as a musical featuring the songs of the Beatles. See latenighttheatre.com.