BWW Reviews: MSMT's SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS Dazzles the Eye and Warms the Heart
For its third production of the season, Maine State Music Theatre has staged a dazzling revival of the beloved 1954 classic, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The company, under the direction of Patti Colombo, delivers a joyous, heartwarming, foot stomping, breathtaking extravaganza of brilliant dancing, convincing characterization, and first-rate production values.
Director/choreographer Patti Colombo, together with her Associate Karl Warden, has taken a fresh look at the Kasha-Landay-Mercer-DePaul-Hirschhorn musical, stressing a youthfulness, optimism, and the indomitable frontier spirit. Gone is the Hollywood picture postcard; in its place Colombo presents a grittier portrait of the 19th century American Northwest - a town and countryside populated by settlers who understand the hardships of trekking the Oregon Trail and who long for some happiness in the often-harsh reality of their backwoods world. That Colombo is able to tell this tale with humor and compassion and that she and her brilliant ensemble can derive and impart so much pleasure in the world they create are tributes to her enormous artistic talent. She conveys the humor without taking it over the top, and she is not afraid to elicit from her actors moments of touching emotion. What makes her production so memorable is the manner in which she can weave artifice and sincerity, legend and reality.
A veteran of several notable productions of Seven Brides (including the British tour), Colombo delivers her signature choreography: muscular, athletic, acrobatic, and balletic - radiating irrepressible energy and joy. Moreover, she segues seamlessly from dance style to style creating a richly textured patchwork quilt. Her combinations are intricate; her choreography is always in the service of the character. There are visible dance vocabulary differences, for example, between the Pontipee clan and the townsfolk, as well as subtle, yet distinguishing mannerisms for each of the seven brides and brothers.
The largely youthful cast members outdo themselves in fulfilling her direction. Heidi Kettenring as Milly and Jarid Faubel as Adam offer a fresh take on their roles. Kettenring is a tough, but tender woman, who has endured hardship, who yearns for companionship, and who is not afraid of the challenges that face her. No sweet innocent romantic, she is a determined and pragmatic lass who insists on equal footing in a man's world. She dances the part with gusto and brings her powerful vocal gifts to bear on her solos.
Faubel imbues Adam Pontipee with an irresistible, boyish backwoods charm. No boorish lout, he is, instead, a young man who has learned to fend for himself and his family and who now must learn the meaning of partnership and love. Faubel not only manages the mountain accent with skill, but he possesses a cultivated, warm baritone, which he uses with musicality and intelligence.
The large supporting cast is equally appealing and individualized. Standouts among the men are Karl Warden as a strapping Benjamin - Warden is a mesmerizing dancer of incredible power, athleticism, and grace; Alex Larson as a sweet, sensitive lovable Gideon, who can dance, sing, and act with the best; Carson Twitchell ( an eleventh hour replacement for the injured Eric Stretch) as an electrifying Caleb; and Eric Sciotto as a delightfully zany, wired Frank.
Merrill West's cheeky Dorcas, Shanna Heverly's mousy Ruth, and Sarah Marie Jenkins' ditsy Alice distinguish themselves among the brides, while David Girolomo adds some amusing gravitas in a trio of cameos, including that of the Preacher.
Music Director Edward Reichert conducts the ten-person pit orchestra with animation and a sensitive synchronicity to the stage action. Charles S. Kading provides a scenic landscape more elaborate than those of some recent productions, but one which beautifully captures the atmosphere of the mountains and the frontier town. Kading utilizes flying and sliding units and an expressive series of tree panels which flit across the stage and soar into the rafters with musical precision, and he solves the avalanche scene cleverly. Kyle Melton's often large-scale props, like the raft or the "horse"-drawn wagon, are masterfully executed, while Dan Efros lights this décor with a colorful scheme that contrasts the cold, stark forest with the cozy warmth of the cabin. Kurt Alger's costumes - all chintz and calico pastels for the ladies and leather and suede neutrals for the men - are evocative and graceful. Colin Whitely balances the soundscape and numerous sound effects skillfully.
This is a production not to be missed, but, then again, which of MSMT's is not? The consistently high levels of performance and production make this company one of the region's treasures. And in this Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the committed and visionary artistic team has once again surpassed itself. Assembling a superlative creative ensemble and a talented cast comprised of both Equity professionals and company interns, the company has integrated these artists into a seamless ensemble of the highest caliber and vividly brought to life an unforgettable slice of Americana.
Photos Courtesy of Maine State Music Theatre, photographer Jenny Sharp