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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REVIEW: Ragtime (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Drury Lane scores big with epic musical “Ragtime”

RAGTIME-_The_cast

 
Drury Lane Oakbrook presents
 
Ragtime
 
Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow
by
Terrance McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (music), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics)
directed/choreographed by
Rachel Rockwell
at
Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook (map)
through May 23 (more info)

By Katy Walsh

‘What can happen in a year?’ Father’s question is an expectation that life is simple and predictable.

BF1C0838 The reality is birth, death, emancipation, persecution, obsession, syncopation. In 1906, the regularity in life takes unexpected turns as Drury Lane Oakbrook presents Ragtime The Musical. The show focuses on the lives of three groups: WASPs, blacks, and immigrants. In the New York suburbs, a wealthy family breaks the monotony with wild excursions and celebrity stalking. In Harlem, a successful black piano player decides to search for his lost love. Just off the boat, an Jewish immigrant artist and his daughter arrive with nothing but optimistic anticipation. Three distinctly different rhythms unexpectedly intersect to create a new tune. Ragtime celebrates a year in American history by paralleling the adaption of ragtime music with socio-economic changes of the time period. The results are a stunning history lesson intertwined with melodies of hope and change.

Under the skillful direction and choreography of Rachel Rockwell, the tempo never misses a beat. Rockwell strikes all the right notes with this multi-talented cast. Quentin Earl Darrington (Coalhouse) is the powerhouse of emotional range in song and act. His tune changes throughout the show – regret, love, vengeance. Darrington connects the audience with his story based on heart wrenching hope. His “The Wheels of a Dream” duet with Valisia LeKae (Sarah) is flawless. LeKae is a perfect match-up and their onstage chemistry is the epic-love-story-kind. Cory Goodrich (Mother) is marvelous in an understated and nonchalant way. Goodrich’s character changes her family’s life dramatically with simple choices. Her transformation is most baffling to Father played by Larry Adams. In a pivotal song, Adams is perplexed as he sings, ‘I thought I knew what love was but these lovers play different music.’

With inspirational paternal love, Mark David Kaplan (Tateh) chases a train for a teary-eyed audience impact. Alongside the principals, smaller and famous roles engage curiosity. Emma Goldman (Catherine Lord) influences as a social reformer. Evelyn Nesbit (Summer Naomi Smart) is the Brittany Spears of the time period…whee! Harry Houdini (Stef Tovar) mystifies as a successful immigrant. Booker T. Washington (James Earl Jones II) commands integration and respect.

BF1C1085 Larry_and_Cory
BF1C0803 BF1C0945 Mark_Kaplan-Jennifer_Baker

Surprisingly, this blockbuster musical starts with a stark stage. The introduction of characters is a popped up portrait of perfection. Literally, group entrances are elevated from below stage. As the three groups multiply across the stage, the unique flair of costume distinction, designed by Santo Loquasto, is a spectacular visual. Costumes, projections, lighting, moments of tasty eye candy decorate this show. From silhouettes marching to swimmers bathing, the imagery dances to the ragtime.

And there was distant music, simple and somehow sublime. Giving the nation a new syncopation.  The people called it Ragtime!’

Paralleling life’s happenstance, my performance had some twists not necessarily planned. There seemed to be an issue with lighting up the solo singers in the first few scenes. A momentary blip broke the backdrop illusion with a ‘Microsoft word computer screen’ projection. Initially, the audio seemed hollow. I was uncertain if it was a microphone or acoustic issue. It either cleared up or my engrossment made it a moot point. All in all, this production was amazing. It left me reinforced that a gesture of kindness changes life’s courses and bewildered about men’s obsessions with cars.

 
Rating: ★★★★
 

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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

It’s official – “Meet Me in St. Louis” is a triumph!

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The reviews are in for “Meet Me in St. Louis” at Drury Lane Oakbrook, and they are almost across-the-board exemplary.  Here’s just a few excerpts:

Tom Williams at ChicagoCritic.com:

Meet Me in St. Louis is a family friendly musical that contains all the sweetness and charm of those early days in America in the 20th-Centruy before all the modern trauma hit.  Those innocent days are chrished.  Kudos for Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre for offering such a polished preoduction as Meet Me in St. Louis. This is a terrific show to get children and teens interested in musical theatre.  And the price is right.   Highly Recommended

And Hedy Weiss over at the Sun-Times relays:

With its altogether blissful revival of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” the Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre has finally entered the top ranks of musical theater production in the Chicago area. Exquisitely cast, magnificently designed and ideally staged by Jim Corti (who has brought music director Margaret James and her band onstage, fully costumed, to become part of the story), this show is the very model of how to give fresh life to an old chestnut.

Fast, funny and engaging from first silhouetted tableau to last trolley ride, “St. Louis” has never looked better.   Highly Recommended   (read entire review here)

Check out some great excerpt videos from the show at TheatreInChicago.com

Great interview with Drury Lane managing director

I always love listening to the always-informative (and entertaining) interviews over at Talk Theatre In Chicago.  And their recent interview with Kyle DeSantis, the business-savvy managing director of both Drury Lane Oakbrook and Drury Lane Water Tower, does not disappoint. 

Check it out!   And if you like it (which I’m sure you will), don’t forget to subscribe to the theatre podcast over at iTunes.