REVIEW: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Drury Lane)

 

Dynamic choreography, rousing leading lady save flawed musical

 

 (L-R) Cara Salerno, Vanessa Panerosa, Amber Mak, Hallie Cercone, Abby Mueller, Katie Huff, and Amanda Kroiss star in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, running through December 19 at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner

        
Drury Lane Oakbrook presents
   
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
   
Book by Gene del Paul, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn
Music/Lyrics by Gene del Paul, Al Kasha, Joel Hirschhorn and Johnny Mercer
Directed by Bill Jenkins
Musical Direction by
Roberta Duchak
at
Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace (map)
through December 19  |  tickets: $31-$45  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

In the 1954 movie musicalSeven Brides for Seven Brothers”, when men kidnap women and trick them into marriage, it’s not Stockholm syndrome, it’s love. “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is one of those movie musicals that is a product of its time, when women were looked at as little more than glorified housekeepers and baby makers, born to do the will of their man. When Adam Pontipee (Steve Blanchard) deceives the sassy Milly (Abby Mueller) into marrying him, his six brothers set out to capture wives for themselves, ambushing six town girls and throwing them in the back of their wagon. It’s offensive, but the music is jovial and melodic, the dancing is energetic and plentiful, and the film’s leading man Howard Keel’s booming voice and charming smile make it difficult to despise the chauvinistic Adam.

(L-R) Richard Strimer (Benjamin) and Abby Mueller (Milly) star in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, running through December 19 at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett BeinerMy problems with the stage adaptation of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers arise from its attempts to flesh out the characters, which sounds like a good thing but ends up backfiring by making them even shallower. The solos do very little to make you sympathize with the characters, with Milly’s “One Man” beginning as a condemnation of her husband’s trickery before devolving into a tribute to female subservience. Conversely, Adam’s big Act Two moment of redemption “Where Were You?” attempts to justify his sexism by giving him a daddy complex, blaming his actions on his absent father instead of taking responsibility himself. It’s not difficult to assume that Adam’s behavior is a product of his environment, but when it is put into song it just makes the already unlikable character seem pathetic. Blanchard’s vocals don’t help matters, lacking the timbre and strength expected from an 1850 frontiersman. And while the added ensemble numbers manage to evoke the musical style of the film, the solos and smaller group sequences have a contemporary feel that is out of place with the rest of the show’s classic musical theater sound.

The highlight of the production is easily Milly and her relationship with her six brothers-in-law. Mueller’s crystal clear tone and powerful belt make her musical numbers stand out, and she has great chemistry with her new relatives as she assumes a dominating mother position in the household. Watching the brothers transform under Milly’s feminine influence is a joy, from learning to dance in “Goin’ Courtin’” to finally appreciating their women in the heartfelt “Glad That You Were Born.” With the brothers, there is evidence of a struggle between the uncivilized way they’ve been brought up and the restraint that makes for successful courting. “We Gotta Make It Through The Winter” is a hilarious exclamation of horny frustration, but it is followed by Daniel (William Travis-Taylor) and Frank (Brandon Springman) ruminating on the somber effects of loneliness in the beautiful “Lonesome Polecat.”

 

(L-R)  Abby Mueller (Milly) and Steve Blanchard (Adam) star in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, running through December 19 at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner (L-R) Richard Strimer, Jarret Ditch, William Travis Taylor, Chris Yonan, Brandon Springman and (back) Zach Zube star in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  Photo by Brett Beiner.

The brothers learning to dance comes in handy for Tammy Mader’s intense, dynamic choreography. Maybe the reason Adam and Milly’s romance never blossoms on stage is because they don’t have a nice dance together like the brothers and their brides. There isn’t much depth to these characters and their affection for each other, but the substance appears in their dancing, when the chemistry really ignites. The extended town dance sequence in Act I is a mesmerizing affair, albeit a little chaotic and unclear at times, while an Act II all-bride dream ballet brings some sensuality to the affair.

Like the film, this production is propelled by its dancing, but bodies in movement can’t overcome all the flaws of the writing. The changes to the film give the story a more modern context, and the attempt to psychoanalyze the characters through song removes much of the musical’s charm. Drury Lane’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a polished, well-performed production, but the questionable source material prevents it from rising to true greatness.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
  

(L-R) Chris Yonan, Hallie Cercone, Jarret Ditch, and Cara Salerno star in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, running through December 19 at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner

 

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Drury Lane Oakbrook announces 2010 Season

Drury Lane Oakbrook announces 2010 Season

Ragtime
directed by Rachel Rockwell
March 24 – May 23 (previews begin March 18)

A nostalgic and powerful portrait of life in turn of the century America , Ragtime is based on E.L. Doctorow’s distinguished novel.  The musical intertwines the stories of a Harlem musician, a wealthy New York family and a Latvian Jewish immigrant. Ragtime poignantly explores history’s timeless contradictions of wealth and poverty, freedom and prejudice, hope and despair, and love and hate.  Featuring a Tony Award winning book by Terrence McNally, and a Tony Award-winning score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, Ragtime combines diverse fictional characters with several famous figures of the era to create a stirring musical portrayal of turn-of-the 20th century America.

Sugar
directed by Jim Corti
June 9 – August 1 (previews begin June 3)

Sugar originally debuted as the widely known film “Some Like it Hot, starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and the blonde goddess, Marilyn Monroe. The film then was transformed into the musical Sugar, which opened at the Majestic Theater in 1972, running for 505 performances and earning four Tony Award nominations. In this side-splitting musical, two struggling musicians witness what appears to be the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and try to find a way out of the city under the threat of the mob. Unfortunately, they are in no position to finance such a move. Desperate times call for desperate measure and the pair take on the only job available—as an all-female band heading to Florida . The cross-dressing frauds board a train and ride right into a world of trouble.

Hot Mikado
directed by David H. Bell
August 18 – October 3 (previews begin August 12)

Since its opening, thousands of audiences have enjoyed the hilarious Broadway musical Hot Mikado, which is an adaptation of the classic Gilbert and Sullivan tale, The Mikado set in the 1940s. This production will be directed by the writer of the book and lyrics himself, multi-Jeff Award winner and Helen Hayes Award winner David H. Bell.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
directed by Bill Jenkins
October 20 – December 19 (previews begin October 14)

Set in Oregon in 1850, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is the story of Adam Pontipee, a man who simply goes to town looking for a bride. He finds Milly working in a restaurant and convinces her to marry him. Milly’s ecstasy quickly sours when she finds she is to also take care of Adam’s six unkempt, burly brothers. Deciding to make the marriage work, Milly sets a plan into motion to marry off the brothers, including teaching them how to court women. This plan turns out to be much more difficult than originally anticipated and leads to a series of madcap events.  A delightfully funny love story, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers received a Tony Award for Best Original Score and began its life as a beloved 1954 MGM movie musical that has only improved in its stage adaptation.

Spamalot
directed by William Osetek
January 6, 2011 – March 13, 2011 (previews begin December 31)

With a book and lyrics by Eric Idle and an entirely new score created by Idle and John Du Prez, Spamalot will be directed by Drury Lane Oakbrook’s Artistic Director William Osetek.  Osetek has directed numerous productions at Drury Lane Oakbrook including the annual holiday favorite, A Christmas Carol.  The multi-Tony Award winning Spamalot debuted on Broadway in 2005 and recently made its final appearance after 1,574 hysterical performances. Telling the legendary tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and their quest for the Holy Grail, Spamalot features a chorus line of dancing divas and knights, flatulent Frenchmen, killer rabbits and one legless knight.


The remainder of Drury Lane Oakbrook’s 2009 season features the Tony Award-winning Cabaret, directed by Jim Corti, previewing August 13, opening August 19 and running through October 11. The delightful Jazz Age musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, directed by Artistic Director William Osetek, previews October 22, opens October 28 and runs through December 20, and the beloved musical Funny Girl, directed by Gary Griffin, previews December 31, opens January 6 and runs through March 7, 2010.

All of Drury Lane Oakbrook shows are produced by Kyle DeSantis, Drew DeSantis and Jason Van Lente; presented by William Osetek, Artistic Director and Gary Griffin, Associate Producer