Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Based on the 1954 MGM movie musical of the same name that starred Howard Keel and Jane Powell, with lyrics and music by Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul, Seven Brides was turned into a Broadway musical in 1982 but it flopped and closed after playing just five performances. With most of the songs from the film plus additional songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn and a book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, the stage version was revised nine years ago. In 2007 it was revised again with two additional songs added and the script rewritten. The final revised version was met with greater success and is what ABT is presenting. So, while the show might have flopped on Broadway, the additional work the creative team has done have made it a fun and lively musical.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers takes place in 1850s Oregon when Adam Pontipee comes to town from his remote ranch to find himself a bride. He quickly finds the spunky Milly who sees truth in his eyes, so she agrees to marry him, thinking that a life with Adam would be much better than waiting tables in a town of mostly uncivilized people. What Adam fails to tell her is that he's got six brothers at home and he is bringing Milly home so she can take care of him and his brothers. While Adam doesn't exactly trick her or lie to her, just fails to tell her the complete truth, he does have some true affection for her, and Milly quickly realizes that cooking and cleaning for a houseful of seven men isn't exactly the life she hoped for herself. She also discovers that Adam and all of his brothers lack social skills, so she goes about showing all of them how to become better men by teaching them manners, showing them how to speak to women and even how to dance. The boys, all eager to get women of their own, take Millie's advice. However, they also take their new found skills to the extremes just a bit when they kidnap six of the girls in town they've falling for in order to get them away from the other suitors in town and take them back to the ranch. With the angry suitors on the way to the ranch, Adam so upset with Milly that he leaves to live on the mountains, and the six girls not exactly happy for being stolen away, all seems lost. But the show is called Seven Brides for Seven Brothers after all, so after a resolution that is so quick you could blink and miss it, you know there is going to be a wedding or maybe even seven before the curtain call.
With the need for a large cast, all who can sing and dance up a storm, you've got to have a very talented group of actors, and ABT doesn't fail at all with their casting. As Milly, Shelley Jenkins is exceptionally strong and sweet but also feisty and spunky. She easily portrays Milly as resourceful enough to know that helping Adam's brothers find happiness will help her as well. Jenkins has a strong command of the stage, a beautiful voice and seems like a natural fit with Brian Krinsky, who plays Adam. Krinsky's Adam comes across as a typical pig-headed and stubborn mountain man, but one who also has a deep sense of care for not only Milly but his brothers as well. He may not know exactly how to show how much he cares or act the way Milly believes he should, but Krinsky displays a keen sense of tenderness in his actions underneath the rough mainly exterior. His voice is so clear and strong that when he first enters, up through the audience, his voice literally fills the entire theatre.
Each of Adam's brothers is distinctive enough to stand alone, and Scott Shedenhelm as Gideon, who gets the most stage time of the brothers, is quite effective as the boy who is becoming a man. Also, Adam Shaff who plays Benjamin has a lovely stage presence and voice.
Direction by Andy Meyers is extremely effective, especially considering that there is very little drama or tension and such a quick resolution to the plot. He is able to quickly establish each of the characters as individuals and elicits very effective ensemble reactions in all of the large group scenes. The stage is often chock full of people, so that's not an easy task. The reactions from the brothers is especially effective, along with their well-directed rambunctious behavior. Seven Brides is a dance heavy show and choreographer Kurtis W. Overby doesn't hold back with plenty of exuberant and fun steps. Famous choreographer Michael Kidd provided the dances for the film and Overby does a fine job in matching Kidd's athletic steps. The direction and choreography are extremely effective when combined in the "Goin' Courting" sequence to show the transformation of the brothers through action, dialogue and dance.
Creative elements are typically top-notch just like past ABT productions, with Nick Mozak's sets, Alicia Dickens' costumes and Tim Monson's lighting perfectly combining to take us back 150 years to the Northwest. Mozak's set design provides a highly elaborate two-story ranch house for Adam and his brothers, and Dickens' color coordinated costumes that match up each brother with each bride, which is a carryover from the film, are a fun and humorous touch. Each brother's scarf and gloves even match his character's assigned color. Monson's lighting plot provides lovely hues and, when combined with Mozak's backdrop of the distant forest, gives us lovely shades of pink, blue, purple and orange to show various times of day on the mountain.
Most of the tuneful songs by Mercer and de Paul from the film, which include "Bless Your Beautiful Hide," "Wonderful, Wonderful Day" and "Goin' Courting" are carried over to the show. While the majority of the new songs written for the stage production don't exactly live up to the movie tunes, one of the new songs, "Love Never Goes Away," is a soaring love trio in the first act for Krinsky, Jenkins and Shedenhelm. The three of them send it soaring to the heavens and it's fortunately also reprised toward the end of the show.
So while Seven Brides for Seven Brothers isn't a musical classic, it is filled with so much fun and rambunctious joy that it doesn't really matter. With a talented cast, superb production elements and wall to wall infectious dancing, ABT has another hit on its hands.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers runs through February 16th at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at azbroadway.org or by calling (623) 776-8400
Stage Direction: Andy Meyers