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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More extensions: Bailiwick and Noble Fool

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“Show Us Your Love” extended through the end of March

Bailiwick Chicago’s cabaret hit has been extended through the end of this month – Sunday, March 28th, to be exact.  You can catch Show Us Your Love, at Mary’s Attic, every Sunday evening at 7:30pm.  For tickets and more information, go to www.BailiwickChicago.com


overtavern
Noble Fool Theatricals has extended their popular family comedy Over the Tavern through April 3rd (our review  ★★½).  Directed by John Gawlik at the Pheasant Run Resort Mainstage Theater (4051 E. Main, St. Charles) Over The Tavern was originally scheduled to close on March 28, 2010, but now has added two additional performances  – April 2nd and 3rd.  For tickets or more information, visit www.noblefool.org or call the box-office at 630-584-6342.

The cast for Over the Tavern includes Alex Adams, Scott Cummins, Gabriel
Harder, Renee Matthews, Stacy Stoltz, Katrina Syrris and Dan Velisek.

REVIEW: Over The Tavern (Noble Fool Theatricals)

Noble Fool’s “Over the Tavern” recalls a bland 1950s

TheTable

Noble Fool Theatricals presents:

Over the Tavern

By Tom Dudzick
Directed by John Gawlik
At
Pheasant Run Resort Mainstage Theater, St. Charles
Through March 28
(more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Noble Fool Theatricals, whose last production played to the Ed Sullivan generation with the holiday revue “Plaid Tidings,” gives the over-60 set another nostalgia fest with their latest, Over the Tavern. Unfortunately, this bland production offers little for the rest of us.

TheDance Playwright Tom Dudzick’s semi-autobiographical look back at life in a working-class Catholic family, ca. 1959, has a strong nostalgic appeal for seniors who recall their childhood in that era, particularly those brought up on the Baltimore Catechism by stern-faced, black-draped nuns with clickers in one hand and punishing rulers in the other. The Pazinski clan — Chet, Ellen and their four kids — live over the family tavern, here denoted by a large lighted Hamm’s Beer sign at stage right. Designer Ian Zywica’s 1950s apartment set has an authentic, if too-affluent feel.

The irascible Chet runs the not overly-successful bar, with unreliable help from his never-seen Pop, and takes his frustrations out verbally on his family. He’s better than his own father because he doesn’t have a drinking problem and he doesn’t hit his kids, but — as his wife offends by reminding him — he also doesn’t hold them first in his thoughts. By paying their tuition to Catholic school, he considers he’s done his duty, and it’s the nuns’ job to shape their character.

He’s so short-tempered that his youngest son, 12-year-old Rudy, literally prays to Jesus for Dad to be in a good mood. Rudy, a bright young wiseacre, isn’t content to follow along placidly where his older siblings and parents have gone before him. In between doing Ed Sullivan impersonations, he takes a literal look at what the nuns are teaching, and questions not only their word, but the religion itself.

If you’re under 60 and didn’t go to Catholic school, what does “Over the Tavern” have to offer you? While there’s a certain universalism to Rudy’s religious rebellion, ordinarily the charm of this play lies in fast and furious repartee and engaging performances from cute kids. Yet there’s little furor in John Gawlik‘s version, which seems slow-paced and cleaned up.

RudywithNun One point of this play is to showcase a high-pitched, rough-and-tumble 1950s that wasn’t like its TV depictions — Rudy’s prayer includes a request to turn his father into Robert Young, the mild-mannered star of the sitcom “Father Knows Best.” Yet Scott Cummins’ reserved Chet makes us wonder what Rudy’s afraid of.

Stacy Stoltz plays his wife as a kind of understated Mary Tyler Moore, resigned, rather than fiery. Most disappointingly, Renee Matthews, normally a vibrant performer, seems listless and stiff as Sister Clarissa, the termagant nun determined to school Rudy in his catechism at all costs.

Picking on a 13-year-old makes me feel meaner than Sister Clarissa, but while Gabriel Harder makes no missteps in the central role, neither is he so engaging as to keep us captivated with Rudy’s prankishness. Rudy needs more piss and vinegar.

As Rudy’s less-bright older brother, 16-year-old Alex Adams is also restrained, though he does give us some convincing moments of teenage angst. Katrina Syrriss seems colorless as the boys’ sister.

The only stirring performance is that of Daniel Velisek, who does a credible and compelling job with the rather limited role of Georgie, their mentally challenged brother.

Rating: ★★½

TheRuler