Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


"SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS"

book by Lawrence Kasha and David S. Landay
lyrics by Johnny Mercer / music by Gene De Paul
new songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn
based on the MGM film and “The Sobbin’ Women” by Stephen Vincent Benet

directed by Greg Ganakas
choreographed by Patti Colombo
musical direction and arrangements by Michael O’Flaherty

Preacher Bixby … David Barron
Mrs. Hoallum … Emily Mikesell
Joe Sanders … Spiff Wiegand
Mrs. Bixby … Anna McNeely
Henry Perkins … Tom Flagg
Zeke … Drew DiStefano
Carl … Shane Rhoades
Matt … Trevor Illingworth
Joel … Drew Franklin
Jeb … Ryan Jackson
Luke … Matt Baker
Ruth … Liz Pearce
Dorcas … Mahri Relin
Sarah … Heather Janneck
Liza … Natalie Stone
Martha … Sara Hart
Alice … Sarah Jane Everman
Adam Pontipee … Burke Moses
Milly Tilden … Jacquelyn Piro
Caleb … Kevin Bernard
Ephraim … Karl Warden
Daniel … David Tankersley
Benjamin … Jim T. Ruttman
Frank … Eric Sciotto
Gideon … Brian Hissong

Swings … Ryan Ghysels; Christina Hedrick
Fight Captain … Tom Flagg
Dance Captain … Sara Hart

Orchestra:

Conductor; Keyboard … Greg Brown
Keyboard II … William Thomas
Percussion … Sal Ranniello
Reed I … Liz Smith
Trombone … David Kayser
Trumpet … Tom Conti
Guitar … Jake Siberon
Violin … Karin Fagerburg

Alternates:

Percussion … Steve Collins; Dave Edricks
Reed I … Mickey Schuster
Trombone … Scott Bean
Trumpet … Ken Roe
Violin … Diane Orson

To attend the Goodspeed Opera production of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS is to be re-introduced to what the American musical was all about: to entertain, pure and simple. The original Broadway production of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS folded after five performances in 1982: those were the days of Messrs. Sondheim and Lloyd Webber and here was a family musical in the Rodgers & Hammerstein tradition but to quote from the program notes, “Have times changed on Broadway? You bet they have. The epic musicals of the 1980s and 90s, with their sung-through scores and dark, brooding subjects have been whisked away since 9/11 in favor of lighter, more comedic fare … Had this been the atmosphere on Broadway when SEVEN BRIDES first appeared over 20 years ago, who knows what its fate might have been.” SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS’ current fate is Goodspeed now giving it a Broadway-worthy revival with its high spirits and sweetness threatening to burst the little theatre apart at the seams --- the effect is not unlike Prometheus being freed from his shackles to stand tall and healthy, once again. Whatever revisions have been made over the years, they are all for the better and make SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, finally, a belated hit.

I remember enough of the 1954 film version to say that David S. Landay and the late Lawrence Kasha have remained faithful to its plot: Adam, a mountain man in 1850 Oregon, marries a spunky lass named Milly; Adam’s six unmarried brothers, inspired by Plutarch’s tale of the Sabine Women, kidnap six girls from town only to have Milly play chaperone until there are multiple marriages, all around. The Messrs. Landy and Kasha kept six of Johnny Mercer and Gene De Paul’s songs, and Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn have added their own. SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS is not a deep show, nor need it be --- if there’s a moral, it’s the age-old one that a clever woman can domesticate a stubborn man without him knowing it --- but it is a well-built, near-perfect entertainment: Act One is full of dash and color, a show-stopping dance sequence and most of the plot; in Act Two, the brothers have become civilized, the girls have been kidnapped and all must wait for the spring thaw (and a preacher); introspection now replaces action, causing the evening to sag, a bit, and there are two Kasha-Hirschhorn solos that are out of sync with the Mercer-De Paul score (their orchestrations, alone, give away the game) --- but these are blemishes, not flaws, and cause no disfiguration to a show that gives so much pleasure, elsewhere.

I must confess I expected a performance composed of hardness and camp --- instead, the Goodspeed production evokes a world of corn meal and molasses, of gingham and wagon wheels and fiddles, of hearty, simple people wedded to the earth, all served up with warm, homespun care. My astonishment gave way to double-delight --- SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS is great fun in itself and the Goodspeeders demonstrate their connective tissue to the Musical’s past; their hearts are worn on their sleeves without embarrassment or apology. The evening’s success is largely due, naturally, to director Greg Ganakas, his exceptional choreographer Patti Colombo, their designers and their large, accomplished cast yet I can’t help feeling that the lovely old Opera House itself, with her red curtains and horseshoe balcony and hand-painted cameos, has contributed her share of inspiration, as well (and you can’t help feeling countrified while gazing out upon the Connecticut River in Goodspeed’s back yard).

Mr. Ganakas keeps his scene changes ---­ wood being the primary element ---­ gliding in and out like clockwork, and he and Ms. Colombo have assembled a top-notch team of singers/dancers so that even the townsmen who are to the seven brothers what the Sharks are to the Jets are memorable (the townsmen, not the brothers, open the show with the girls). SEVEN BRIDES’ highlight, of course, is the celebrated challenge dance where the two groups of men fight over the six available girls and climaxes with bodies hurtling through space --- as impressive as the number is on film it is nothing compared to seeing it performed, onstage, for there are no numerous takes to be spliced into a unified whole, it must be performed then and there, dangers included, and the Goodspeed cast is breathtakingly up to the challenge. Not since Montego Glover stopped North Shore Music Theatre’s MEMPHIS in its tracks with her rendition of “Colored Woman” have I witnessed an audience caught in such pleasurable torment, wanting to have a number end so that they, too, can participate with their cheers and applause --- on the afternoon I attended, when the triumphant brothers caught up their love-struck partners in tableau, the Goodspeed rafters, as the saying goes, rang with audience approval. And rang. And rang. Only an onstage musician, rapping on a cowbell, could bring everyone back down to earth, again. It was a glorious, glorious dance sequence, further abetted by Gregory Gale’s dresses that transformed the whirling girls into full-bloom tulips, here, or rag dolls tumbling down the men’s backs, there.

Burke Moses, a handsome side of beef, nicely captures Adam’s combination of burliness and blunt sensitivity so that the man is worth taming (and being tamed by, as well) and among the brothers, Eric Sciotto stands out as Frank, an explosive little fellow with sheepdog bangs. Jacquelyn Piro as Milly is the production’s centerpiece --- her heroine is starchy, not steely, which allows her to bend or melt when necessary yet still keep her authoritative bearing and Ms. Piro has her amusing moments: when Adam slaps her rump in courtship, she returns the gesture to seal the bargain; when one brother snarls at her over vittles, she answers back in like coin (hilarious!); when Adam, his loving arms about her, announces he wants dozens of children, Ms. Piro’s silent reaction speaks volumes, etc. If you found Jane Powell’s filmed Milly to be a cloying little songbird, fear not: Ms. Piro’s performance is both modern enough for today’s audiences and period enough to satisfy the purists.

If I close on a somber note I do so because I wonder if and when Boston will ever produce such musicals that are heavy on dance and cast with local dancers who can do them justice (I exclude the import houses). I once scribbled that Boston is a town rich in singers but poor in dancers --- no surprises, there, as it continues to stage economic, small-cast New Musicals where Terpsichore is ever the wallflower at the party. I understand that producing a full-scale musical is more expensive than producing a drama and that many local theatres are not equipped to house them but if the Sondheim era has begun to pass in New York and since Boston monkey-sees what New York monkey-does, there is going to come a time when dancers will have to be coaxed to Boston and kept here (North Shore Music Theatre does its part in the summer, but what about the rest of the year?). In the meantime, get thee to the Goodspeed Opera House where SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS is playing for another month and see what you’ve been missing, whether you know it or not.

"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (15 April - 26 June)
GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE
Route 82, EAST HADDAM, CT
1 (860) 873-8668

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide

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