Seven Brides For Seven Brothers: Sibling Revelry
Seven Brides For Seven Brothers may have lasted a mere five performances on Broadway, but the sensational newly revised production sparking fireworks all over the Paper Mill Playhouse makes it look like a great American classic. A co-production in association with Theatre Under The Stars and North Shore Music Theatre, director Scott Schwartz's robust and rowdy mounting features a dazzling cast, terrific tunes and wildly athletic choreography by Patti Colombo that'll leave you cheering for more.
This is a case where the movie musical came first. The 1954 romantic comedy set in 1850's Oregon starred Howard Keel and Jane Powell and featured a score by Johnny Mercer (lyrics) and Gene de Paul (music). A 1982 Broadway production, with a book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landy and additional songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, was a starring vehicle for Debby Boone, with the wonderful David-James Carroll as her leading man. Further tinkering has been done since then with songs added, songs deleted and the book punched up, making the current Seven Brides For Seven Brothers a solidly written show. And though none of the songs would be considered standards, the score boasts a cheery musical comedy sense of wholesome fun.
Backwoodsman Adam (a strong and virile-voiced baritone, Edward Watts) heads into town one day to pick up some supplies he'll be needing before the winter snow keeps him confined to his secluded cabin, one of which is a wife. He hits it off right away with Milly (a funny and spunky Michelle Dawson) who cooks a tasty stew and chops wood like a demon. After a five minute courtship the two are hitched and off to spend their lives together in the wilderness. Unfortunately for Milly, Adam neglected to mention that he lives with his six unruly and unkempt brothers (Randy Bobish, Luke Longacre, Karl Warden, Travis Kelley, Eric Sciotto and Christian Delcroix). Not about to put up with their continual fighting and lack of manners, she puts her foot down and demands their respect so that she may civilize the bunch. It turns out the boys clean up really nice and the single girls at a town social (Christina Rae Hedrick, Kate Marilley, Denise Payne, Margot de la Barre, Stephanie Fittro and Sarah Marie Jenkins) take notice. In a show-stopping dance sequence that mixes ballroom dancing, folk dancing, ballet and brawling, the brothers learn how to cut in when the ladies are dancing with their townie suitors (Cameron Henderson, Nathan Hershberger, Luke Rawlings, Benjie Randall, Jason Babinsky and Ryan Christopher Chotto), instigating a challenge dance where guys try outdoing each other, first with their feet and then with their fists. (J. Allen Suddeth provides terrific fight direction that's more playful than violent.) This exuberant ballet, performed by a rip-roaring cast full of humor and spirit, is just one highlight of Colombo's exciting choreography, which is outstanding throughout the show.
Later, back at the cabin, the brothers can't get over their first taste of social contact with women and are depressed at the thought of spending another winter alone. Adam gets an idea from a book of Milly's he's been reading about the Sabine women (which he calls the sobbin' women) and plots to have the fellas kidnap their crushes and marry 'em up.
Anna Louizos designed a wonderfully attractive rustic set made of moving clusters of tall trees that separate to reveal scenes in locations like the town square and the remote cabin. Jess Goldstein's costumes and Donald Holder's lighting are first-rate.
This is a show that boasts the look and feel of its 1950's Golden Age roots, even if it didn't hit Broadway until the 1980's. Boisterous, humable and doggedly old-fashioned, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a joy from start to finish.
Photos by Bruce Bennett: Top: Edward Watts and Michelle Dawson
Center: (l-r): Luke Longacre, Michelle Dawson, Eric Sciotto, Karl Warden, Travis Kelley, Randy Bobish and Christian Del Croix
Bottom: Kate Marilley, Sarah Marie Jenkins, Margot De La Barre, Bengie Randall, Christina Hedrick and Nathan Hershberger