However you define that elusive thing called star quality, Shirley Jones still has it.
At age 82 she is premiering her autobiographical show “Have You Met Miss Jones” at the New Theatre Restaurant, abetted by her actor son Patrick Cassidy (together they are a living testimonial to the benefits of a superior gene pool).
Jones sings a bit and dances a bit (the bulk of the musical heavy lifting is performed by Patrick and two young, multi-talented performers), but mostly she talks about her life, her career, her children and her husbands with a disarming and thoroughly engaging openness.
The show is truly a family affair. Yet another of her sons, Shaun Cassidy (yes, the former pop idol) wrote the piece with the show’s director, Richard Maltby Jr. (best known for staging the original “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” on Broadway).
They had plenty to write about. As a child Jones accompanied her beer salesman dad on his circuit of Pennsylvania saloons, often entertaining the drinkers by singing. (This memory gives the grown-up Shirley an excuse to belt out a bluesy version of “Frankie and Johnny”).
There were her hit movies: “Oklahoma!” (at age 18 she was cast for the crucial role of Laurey after a whim led her to attend a theater audition in NYC), “Carousel,” “The Music Man” and the hell-and-brimstone “Elmer Gantry,” in which she played a prostitute and walked away with an Oscar.
There are anecdotes about her leading men: Robert Preston, Burt Lancaster (“the best kisser of the bunch”), James Stewart and Marlon Brando (“too actorly for me”).
Jones describes her whirlwind romance with actor Jack Cassidy, who was already married and who continued to chase the ladies even after wedding Shirley. After their divorce, he died at age 49 in a fire ignited by a cigarette smoked in bed.
Her second marriage, to comic actor Marty Ingels, was a far more stable union. Ingels died only a year ago; the evening’s most poignant moment finds Jones singing “My Funny Valentine” to her husband, “the man who made me laugh for 40 years.”
The show’s least effective moments have an over-scripted, sit-com feel. But when Jones and Cassidy tell their tales in a simple, conversational manner, it’s impossible to resist.
Supporting players John Battagliese and Charlotte Maltby (the director’s daughter) do yeoman’s service throughout. Maltby plays the younger version of Shirley Jones, and with Battagliese delivers some fine renditions of songs from Jones’ films.
During these numbers Jones looks on from a nearby chair — but look at her face. She’s acting the emotions these memories evoke.
A highlight of Act II is Jones’ recollection of TV’s “The Partridge Family,” enacted by the players in cheesy ’60s fashions.
Patrick shines in an energetic rendition of “Trouble” from “The Music Man.” and with Battagliese — standing in for the uber-competitive Jack Cassidy — performs “Anything You Can Do” from “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Later on he delivers a fine bit of Gilbert and Sullivan patter from “The Pirates of Penzance,” his first Broadway show. (Occasionally “Have You Met Miss Jones” threatens to become “The Patrick Cassidy Story” … a digression that does not go unnoted by his mom.
All of this plays out in a rough facsimile of the Jones/Cassidy/Ingels living room in Beverly Hills. The set is dominated by a huge screen showing photos and clips from Jones’ films and TV appearances.
Centering the entire affair is Shirley Jones, who for all her success and fame seems to take the greatest pride in her children. Radiating integrity, intelligence and talent, she’s a personality well worth meeting.