The new production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” at Circle Theatre is a high energy, dance-filled show. Director Kevin Bellie achieves solid ensemble performances from his large, lively cast. Bellie’s choreography is acrobatic and fun. Suzanne Mann’s costumes are colorful. This irresistibly good-natured musical comedy qualifies as solid family entertainment, though it’s essentially an old-fashioned show that breaks no new ground.
This musical is what it is. There’s never a dull moment. But the plot is slight, to say the least. The title gives you the whole story in a nutshell. There’s lots of flirting and fighting. The characters, especially the women, are pretty underwritten. The songs are mostly peppy but are pretty routine, even forgettable. And though Bob Knuth’s versatile log cabin set adapts to become a variety of interior locations, there’s no outdoorsy feel to this show. Though Bellie utilizes the performance space well, at times the busy, crowded stage feels claustrophobic.
The story takes place in mid 19th Century Oregon territory. Adam (Eric Lindahl), the eldest of seven brothers living on an isolated mountain ranch, goes to town looking for a bride. There he meets a hard-working but feisty waitress named Milly (Rachel Quinn) who falls for his sweet talk. After a whirlwind three-minute courtship Adam convinces Milly to marry him on the spot. But what he’s really seeking is a free cook and housekeeper for himself and his rowdy younger brothers. He fails to mention they live with him like virtual barnyard animals. Upon arrival at their homestead Milly quickly learns she’s also to take care of Adam’s six slovenly siblings.
But she’s a spunky gal who’s determined to make her marriage work. So Milly becomes a surrogate mother to the rambunctious brood a la Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, teaching them grooming, manners, and, of course, dancing. Before long she’s made gentlemen out of them so they can woo and win sweethearts of their own in town. But her plans to clean them up, refine them, and marry them off backfire.
It’s a ridiculously sexist story but independent Milly immediately shows Adam who’s boss. The politically incorrect plot is at times annoying but Milly is always sassy and self-assured. She’s her own woman.
The high-kicking, hyperactive brothers are played by Tony DiPisa, Mat Labotka, Jeremy Myers, Adam Pasen, Shawn Quinlan, and Nick Woodrow.
This musical is an adaptation of the short story “The Sobbin’ Women” by Stephen Vincent Benet. (You may recall having to read his “Devil and Daniel Webster” in high school.) The plot is based on the ancient Roman legend of “The Rape of the Sabine Women.”
Alpha male Adam, the most stubborn and least likable of the brood, reads his brothers the Sabine “rape” legend from Plutarch, convincing them to sneak into town to steal wives for themselves. The characters never utter the “r” word, of course, but the boys do carry off their future brides by force.
These brides-to-be are portrayed by Brigitte Ditmars, Ashley Dobson, Meredith Freyre, Rivkah Gevinson, Darci Naelepa, and Kelly Schumann.
Even though the kidnapped girls find the brothers attractive, they banish them to the barn for the winter. They must earn their way back into the young ladies’ affections.
An older couple, a merchant and his wife, are played by Brian Rabinowitz and Lynn Nosek. Bradley Baker is the preacher. Other townspeople are played by Michael Cook, Matthew Lozano, Scott Neild, Jack O’Brien, and Karla Serrato.
Mike Sherman is the musical director and plays the piano. Justin Kono does percussion, Ryan Hobbs plays trumpet.
Peter J. Storms designed the sound, which includes a realistic avalanche.
Many of us fondly remember the 1954 MGM movie musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” It was conceived as virtually a low-budget, B-movie throwaway musical. The film was shot using a cheaper color process–not even Technicolor–and most of it was staged before painted “outdoor” backdrops, not on location. The bulk of MGM’s money went to Gene Kelly’s “Brigadoon” that year. But while the latter film is seldom revived, the movie “Seven Brides” continues to delight new generations with its energetic choreography and its rollicking story of multiple frontier romance.
I haven’t seen the picture since I was a kid but I recall a big barn-raising sequence that was thrilling to witness. Understandably, this episode doesn’t happen on stage.
The score is hardly in the same league as other MGM classics like “Meet Me in St. Louis” or “Singin’ in the Rain.” And the new songs written for the stage version seem to be the weakest link.
Though this stage musical version underwent a lengthy national tour, once it opened on Broadway in 1982 it promptly closed after only five performances.
Yet there’s a fun, folksy, down-home quality to the production. Country style fiddle music plays before the curtain and during the intermission, and there’s a display of hand-made quilts in the theater lobby.