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: SUGAR (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

This ‘sugar’ lacks spice

 SUGAR-Ladies

   
Drury Lane Oakbrook presents
  
Sugar
   
Book by Peter Stone
Music:
Jule Styne, Lyrics: Bob Merrill
Based on movie “
Some Like It Hot
Directed by
Jim Corti
at 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook (map)
through August 1st  | 
tickets: $26-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

It’s a play about the filming of a play about a movie. Drury Lane Oakbrook presents SUGAR, a musical version of the film ‘Some Like It Hot.’ In Studio 24, they are filming a speakeasy prohibition era romp. The show starts with Sweet Sue Syncopation SUGAR (vertical)-Rod Thomas & Jennifer KnoxOrchestra in dire need of a new sax and cello player. The all-girl band is heading from Chicago to Miami. Over on Clark Street, two musicians witness a brutal killing by a  mob. To hide from the bad guys, they join Sweet Sue’s band to get out of town. They’ve got the right and wrong instruments. The ‘new girls’ are really dudes. Sugar is the singer. She has a history of falling for deadbeat sax players and wants a future with a non-musician millionaire. A sax player, Josie, is really Joe who is now also pretending to be millionaire. Daphne, aka Jerry, is also interested in Sugar but has millionaire issues of his… her own. SUGAR is a love triangle farce with extra sides of sweet amusement.

In a play about the filming of a play about a movie, there are true glimpses of Billy Wilder’s classic masterpiece. Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon haunt the stage. Jennifer Knox (Sugar) is the sexy blonde bombshell. Knox dances and sings with a sensual allure that would make Marilyn proud. Alan Schmuckler (Jerry/Daphne) is Jack Lemon incarnate. His facial expressions and manner provide pure Lemon comedy that blends perfectly with SUGAR. And he can sing too. Jack would be jealous! One of the best duets is ‘The Beauty that Drives Men Mad’ sung by Schmuckler and his buddy… gal pal, Rod Thomas (Joe/Josie/Junior). Not looking quite as pretty in a wig, Thomas’ height adds its own humor in his masculine drag performance. Tammy Mader (Sweet Sue) is the SUGAR--Jennifer Knox vibrant Charleston dancing conductor. Although her moxie presence gets limited stage time, it leaves a cue-the-band appeal. Joe D. Lauck (Osgood) is charming as a millionaire in love. The entire SUGAR cast, as musicians, gangsters, millionaires, add an extra layer of flavor with melt in your mouth goodness.

Director Jim Corti has remounted the musical SUGAR as a movie being filmed. The curtain is a makeshift studio warehouse door. A film crew is stagehands moving light fixtures. At the end of Act I, two characters meet up on break. As an ingredient, it doesn’t really add or take anything away. It’s like Splenda. I get the concept but I prefer the real thing. SUGAR tastes good. Sure, it’s not one of the major food groups and you couldn’t exist on a diet of just sugar. If life is like a box of chocolates, then SUGAR is a Whitman Sampler. You know what you’re biting into but that does not spoil the pleasure.

  
   
Rating: ★★½
 
 

SUGAR--men in hats

Running Time: Two hours includes a fifteen minute intermission

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REVIEW: Into the Woods (Porchlight Music Theatre)

Enchanted cast serves up skewered storybook characters

 Jeny Wasilewski as Little Red Ridinghood, Henry Michael Odum as Narrator, Steve Best as The Baker

 
Porchlight Music Theatre presents
 
Into the Woods
 
Book by James Lapine
Music/Lyrics by
Stephen Sondheim 
Directed by
L. Walter Stearns
Music Direction by Eugene Dizon
at
Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through May 30th | tickets: $38 | more info

By Katy Walsh

What happens after happily everafter? What is next after Cinderella gets married, Jack kills the giant, Rapunzel has short hair? Porchlight Music Theatre presents the Tony Award-winning musical, Into The Woods. The baker learns his witch-of-a neighbor has cursed him with infertility. To break the barren spell, the baker is instructed by the  Rachel Quinn as Cinderellawitch to produce a red cape, golden slipper, white cow and blonde hair strands. He and his wife go into the woods to secure the hex-breaking ingredients. Among the trees, they find storybook characters struggling with their own predetermined storybook ending. Into The Woods intersects multiple fairytale classics to create non-traditional ever-afters.

The set designed by Ian Zywica establishes the woods location. Although the five piece orchestra is visibly on stage, they vanish just beyond a hill and bramble. Center stage is a large full moon-shaped screen doubling as forest projections and shadowboxing scenes (designed by Liviu Pasare). The multi-media effect adds a mystical quality for dead people speaking or being regurgitated. Although simplistic, it has all the makings for a magical forest for close encounters of the fable kind.

Under the direction of Artistic Director L. Walter Stearns, the talented ensemble cast are enchanting(!). Bethany Thomas (witch) is spellbindingly marvelous belting out the punch line and song. Her rendition of “Children Will Listen” is an inspiring memorable moment. With exaggerated prince-like debonair, Cameron Brune and William Travis Taylor are hilarious leaping in and out of scenes. Their double duet of “Agony” is suave buffoonery, as Taylor quips, “I was taught to be charming not sincere.” Although sometimes overpowered by the band, Jeny Wasilewski (Red Riding Hood) sings and skips with spunky determination. Channeling Amy Adams’ “Enchanted” performance, Rachel Quinn (Cinderella) is a wistful and underwhelmed target of the prince’s affection. Steve Best and Brianna Borger (Baker/Baker’s Wife) sing an amusing duet of marital expectations. The large cast adds harmonious voice to the finale… both of them.

Cameron Brune as Rapunzel's Prince and William Travis Taylor as Cinderella's Prince Cameron Brune as The Wolf and Jeny Wasilewski as Little Red Ridinghood
Henry Michael Odum as Mysterious Man Steve Best as The Baker and Brianna Borger as The Baker's Wife Rachel Quinn as Cinderella and Jeny Wasilewski as Little Red Ridinghood

Initially, Into The Woods is a clever and witty flashback to childhood stories. In a ninety minute first act, playwright James Lapine succinctly intertwines various fairytales with additions of each character’s back story. The happily-ever-after finale is amusing, satisfying and surprising. The projected words “to be continued” initiates a program book revisit. Apparently, something does happens after ‘happily ever after.’ Act II starts where the traditional fairytale ends. The results are less than whimsical with a giant’s village domination, philandering spouses, and serial killing. It’s a harsh twist for following your dream. Sure, there are adult lessons to be learned about the consequences of pursuing your heart’s desire. It’s called reality. I prefer to keep my childhood heroes in a perpetual state of Act I make believe.

 
   
Rating: ★★★
    
    

 

Kristen Leia Freilich as Jack's Mother and Scott J. Sumerak as Jack Bethany Thomas as The Witch

 

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