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Mother, son work out issues on Broadway

Shirley Jones, Patrick Cassidy at each other's throats in '42nd Street'
/ Source: The Associated Press

This summer, the frothy musical “42nd Street” has taken a decidedly Freudian turn.

Shirley Jones and her son, Patrick Cassidy, have joined the Broadway production, adding a pinch of psychodrama to the story of an aging, cantankerous stage diva who battles her younger tyrannical director.

Needless to say, both characters are at each others’ throats for most of the night. “I called my therapist immediately and said, 'Listen, cancel all my sessions for the next four months. I can just get it out on stage,”’ Cassidy says with a chuckle.

Jones nods grimly: “Patrick is getting even for all of his baby years.”

All joking aside, the pair seem to have playfully embraced what producers of the show say is the first time in history that a mother and son are starring together in a Broadway musical.

“It’s natural,” mom says.

“It feels very, very easy,” her son agrees.

Jones, 70, the former matriarch of TV’s “The Partridge Family” and who won an Academy Award in 1960 for “Elmer Gantry,” plays Dorothy Brock to Cassidy’s Julian Marsh in the revival.

“The nice thing is that the roles are very suited for us as individuals,” Cassidy says. “I mean, I could play this part without her being there and she could play the part without me being there.”

You might expect Jones, who has appeared in such classic musical films as “The Music Man,” “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel,” to be offering tips to her son. But it’s Cassidy, 42, who has made his career on the stage.

A true Broadway star
While Jones was last on Broadway in 1968 in “Maggie Flynn” opposite her husband Jack Cassidy, their son has racked up Broadway credits in “Aida,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Pirates of Penzance” and “Leader of the Pack,” as well as the original off-Broadway production of “Assassins.”

That puts Cassidy in the driver’s seat — for now.

“I feel it’s a little role-reversal for me,” he says. “I’ve done this for much of my career and this is the first time for her in a long time. I feel very maternal, that sense of wanting to take care of her. It’s a lot different than it was in 1968.”

Jones credits her son with teaching her to conserve energy on stage and to manage new technologies, such as the show’s wireless microphone that snakes through her costume and hides on her forehead.

“He has been a marvelous help,” she says. “I’m not accustomed to taking orders from my son. But he’ll say, 'Mother, you have to do it this way, or this is going to happen’ — and he’s right. He knows this better than I do.”

The two have made a temporary home in a Manhattan brownstone — she in the top apartment and he in the bottom. They rehearse together, travel to the theater together and wander the city together.

“The whole experience of being in New York and on Broadway is really wonderful because I get to go through it with her,” Cassidy says. “That, in itself, has been very unique and wonderful for a mother and a son.”

So, absolutely no friction with living with mom?

“Talk to us in another month or two,” Cassidy responds sarcastically. “I can promise you this: We’re not the Waltons.”

Born for the stageIt’s not really a stretch to say Cassidy was born into show business. Unlike his brothers Shaun and Ryan or half brother David, Patrick made his debut, quite literally, in utero.

Jones was heavily pregnant with Patrick throughout the filming of “The Music Man” opposite Robert Preston. During the stars’ one and only screen kiss, Preston felt a kick from his co-star’s stomach.

“What was that?” Jones recalled Preston asking. She explained.

Years later, Cassidy was doing a benefit in New York with Preston and was eager to meet his mom’s old colleague. Cassidy hesitantly knocked on Preston’s door and the older actor opened it.

“Oh, Mr. Preston, I’m so happy to meet you. My name is Patrick Cassidy,” he said. Preston took three steps back, eyed his visitor, and replied: “I know. We’ve already met.”

Jones and Cassidy have appeared together on stage only once before: In 1977, mom and her 15-year-old son hit the road to do a summer stock production of “The Sound of Music.” Cassidy says he was just trying to earn enough cash to buy a car.

By high school, Cassidy had no intention of following a career in show biz. He was a stand-out quarterback until breaking his collarbone in the third game of his senior year. During his six weeks in rehab, he wandered over to the drama department.

They were doing, appropriately enough, a production of “The Music Man.”

“I got hooked,” he says.

“I wanted a doctor or a lawyer!” Jones wails in mock frustration.

Cassidy has worked hard in the interim making sure he didn’t follow in his older sibling’s more famous footsteps. Both Shaun ("The Hardy Boys”) and David ("The Partridge Family”) struggled after an early burst of fame. Ryan, the youngest son, is a set decorator.

“I somehow or other managed to steer clear of the whole teen-idol thing and try to get some legitimacy and therefore some longevity,” Patrick says. “The teen-idol ride, while it’s a great way to get a lot of money, it’s really hard to sustain it for any more than three or four years.”

He gravitated toward the theater, armed with an impressive pedigree. Besides Jones and his brothers, his father Jack was a Tony Award winner who starred in several Broadway shows, including “She Loves Me” and “Fade Out, Fade In.”

Pros and cons of being a CassidyThe Cassidy name, he says, opened doors even as it closed a lot of windows.

“There were pros and cons throughout my career. Where it was great was that I had access to any agent, any manager — they were all willing to represent me. They didn’t even know if I had any talent,” he says.

“But on the other side of the coin, the fact that my last name was C-A-S-S-I-D-Y meant, 'This is what you are. You are a teen person.’ You are, therefore, not taken seriously.”

That might be a mistake. During a recent photo shoot at the Ford Center theater, a photographer placed Jones at a piano until told that she can’t really play. Cassidy quietly slipped behind the keyboard and filled the room with a gusty rendition of the Eagles’ “Desperado.”

For Jones, watching Patrick often reminds her of her late husband, who died in a 1976 house fire. Patrick, she says, “has it all — he has what Jack had. He takes the stage, he sings magnificently, he’s not bad looking, let’s face it, and he’s a good actor. He’s learned his craft very well.”

When Cassidy first donned his silver wig and pinstriped suit for “42nd Street,” Jones freaked. “I almost fainted,” she says. “He looked so much like his father. So the only thing I had to get over was staring in the face of my son and thinking of his father.”

For Cassidy’s part, his mother’s legacy only recently became clear.

He and his brothers and their kids gathered a few years ago to watch Jones’ A&E “Biography,” a special two-hour edition that until then had only been extended to Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne.

“I started to well up and cry,” he recalls. “For the first time ... I saw what everybody in the world saw. I saw the star. I saw the unbelievable magnetism that she projects, because I always just saw her as Mom.”