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: High School Musical (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Tweens need escapism as much as adults do

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Drury Lane Oakbrook presents
 
High School Musical
 
Directed/Choreographed by Rachel Rockwell 
100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
(map)
through May 22nd | tickets: $10 | more info

Reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

High School Musical, currently playing at Drury Lane Oakbrook, is a kind of bubble gum Romeo and Juliet for kids. Troy and Gabriella are teenagers from different cliques, she’s a brain and he’s a jock. But they fall in love anyway, and decide to shatter expectations by auditioning for the school musical, sending queen bee drama queen Sharpay into a jealous rage. In the end, they land the parts, fall in love, and even soften Sharpay up a little, all because they refused to stay faithful to their stereotypes. It’s nice to tell kids that they’re going to be alright in high school, if they just "are themselves." Unfortunately, life is not as simple as this, especially for children. In one of the great high school dramas of all time, My So-Called Life, the main character, Angela, reveals in a voice-over, "people are always telling you to ‘be yourself’ like yourself is this definite thing, like a toaster." In the super catchy, and cheerfully choreographed number "Stick to the Status Quo", which takes place in the cafeteria with all of the students present, a basketball player reveals that he actually loves to bake, and a bookish prep reveals that she loves to dance to hip hop, but are these actually feelings that children, who are emotional human beings can relate to? Does this actually mean anything to kids? Or is the simplistic message just a marketing device, to trick parents into believing that there is substance to this poppy, flirty, love story for children?

high-school-musical_2TIMP_20137 The High School Musical franchise is a commercial creation. Originally a Disney Channel T.V. movie, the brand has expanded to encompass a quadruple platinum soundtrack, two sequels, including High School Musical 3: Senior Year which received theatrical release and is the highest grossing movie musical in an opening weekend of all time, as well as the condensed 70 minute stage version playing at Drury Lane.

The cheery “EHS (East High School”) banners strewn about the great grey daunting faux stone proscenium that was created for the main stage production Ragtime give the show the creepy look of a fascist victory party run by high school students. But happily, High School Musical also shares main stage director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell, who speedily and clearly moves the show along . The choreography is poppy and fun, and was conceived with a high school mentality but a sophisticated ability. Additionally, there is some stand out talent in the cast, most notably Elana Ernst, whose super-sassy Sharpay is a magnetic pleasure to watch.

Children love High School Musical because of it’s upbeat, catchy songs and attractive cast. And besides being funny, it also and presents to kids – who are still years away from high school – a totally non-threatening fantasy about what they can expect when they enter the daunting world of the big kids. There is nothing wrong with a show like High School Musical; kids need escapism as much as adults do. But during the finale of High School Musical, when Max Quinlan as Troy pulls an amazing stunt where he lands the lead role in the musical, while concurrently winning the big basketball game and defeating bad girl Sharpay all through the magic of being himself, it makes one recall a scene at the beginning of the show, in which Sharpay auditions with an incorrectly uptempo interpretation of "What I’ve Been Looking For." Her partner is not the studly star basketball player, but her flamboyantly gay twin brother Ryan, played by the talented and funny Sean Michael Hunt. Sharpay and Ryan’s interpretation becomes the subject of vague mockery, and although it’s catchy, it’s not right, it’s not the status quo. Surely it takes a strong sense of self to face drama auditions, locked arms with your gay brother and demand that you be cast as lovers in the school play. But here, her sense of self is not rewarded, it’s punished because it conflicts with the needs of her cooler counterparts. Perhaps, High School Musical‘s message of be-true-to-yourself-and-all-will-be-well is conditional on how popular you are, which, when you think about it, is a rather bleak conclusion for those teens not on the A-list.

 
Rating: ★★½
 

The performance schedule for HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL is Tuesdays through Saturdays at 10 a.m. with select performances at noon, 1 p.m., 7:30 p.m. Please call 630.530.0111 or visit www.DruryLaneOakbrook.com for the exact schedule, as some show times and dates may vary.

CAST: HSM stars Max Quinlan as Troy Bolton and Summer Smart as Gabriella Montez. The cast also includes Elana Ernst as Sharpay Evans, Sean Michael Hunt as Ryan Evans, Brandon Koller as Chad Danforth, Caitlainne Guerreri as Taylor McKessie, Jonathan Weir as Coach Bolton, Rebecca Finnegan as Ms. Darbus, Natalie Berg as Kelsi Neilson, Nina Fluke as Martha Cox, Jackson Evans as Jack Scott, Travis Turner as Zeke Baylor, and Zach Zube as Ripper.

CREATIVE TEAM: Joining Rachel Rockwell as Director and Choreographer are Jesse Klug (Lighting Designer), Erika Senase (Costume Manager), Brad Gonda (Technical Director), Kristin Ligeski (Wardrobe Supervisor), Jeff Dublinske (Sound Engineer) and Sophia Briones (Props Master). Kristi Martens is Stage Manager.

Review: Drury Lane’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

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Drury Lane Oakbrook presents:

Thoroughly Modern Millie

by Richard Morris, Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan
directed by William Osetek
thru December 20th (ticket info)

Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

The traditional Thoroughly Modern Millie is given a new breath of life in Drury Lane’s high quality, highly energetic and enjoyable new musical, directed by William Osetek. From top to bottom, set to song, this is a near flawless performance of traditional musical theatre produced with Broadway-like standards – just  on a smaller scale.

thoroughly-modern-millie-3 Thoroughly Modern Millie is the story of a young woman who has moved to the big city in search of becoming a “modern woman,” one in search of wealth not love. Set in the early 1920’s, when the social and economic climate is changing, especially for women who have recently joined the work place and have a new independence when seeking happiness. With nowhere to go she takes refuge in a hotel that houses other single women, most of whom are out-of-work actresses, but unknown to Millie and the other girls the hotel is also a front for Mrs. Meers “white-slave” trafficking business. Unaware of the dangers around her, Millie is stubbornly set on marrying her rich boss and decides that there is no room for love in a modern woman as she flirts to get his attention.

Millie is magnificent. Holly Ann Butler makes her Drury Lane debut as Millie, and her tremendous talents stand out in every aspect of her performance. She can sing (whoa can she sing) dance, act and is innocently beautiful on stage as she takes the audience through the streets of New York as designed by Kevin Depinet.

Kevin Depinet has designed an open stage with a towering 3-dimensional backdrop of Manhattan creating depth and distance on stage. The huge buildings have a romantic feeling intensified by the changing colors and brightness that shines through the windows of each building depending on the time of day. The set hovers over the cast creating a visual sense of the magic that exist downtown.

The choreography is exceptional, and gives one an example of the meaningful influence that top-notch choreography can have with the plot and overall enjoyment of a production. Tammy Mader’s choreography brings the book and songs together, fluidly portraying individual emotions; creating entertaining numbers that enhance the feelings surrounding the stage.

The production really picks up in the second act where the choreography gets even more complicated, with surprise quirky moves, and the plot thickens with a merry-go-round of love interests to go along with Mrs. Meers increasingly deviant plan of kidnapping white-slaves. Millie’s journey to discover the value of true love rather than the materialistic measures of success is guided by the wealthy Muzzy (Melody Betts), and everyone finds their way to true love and happiness – well almost everyone.

thoroughly-modern-millie-2The energetic musical numbers throughout the production are led by truly gifted voices and enhanced by the full production of each song. Actresses and actors like Holly Ann Butler, Randall Dodge and Melody Betts are performances in themselves, and it is a special experience to hear a group of talented vocalists sing together at such a high caliber. My personal favorite is the deep baritone voice of Randall Dodge as Millie’s boss.

Along with the spectacular songs, a ton of comedy is slipped into the plot and brought out especially well by gifted and seasoned actresses like Paula Scrofano (Mrs. Meers,) and Sharon Sachs (Mrs. Flannery), who connect well to the audience with their well-timed antics displaying the off-beat personalities of their characters. Richard Manera and Paul Marinez (Ching Ho and Bun Foo) also bring continuous laughter into the musical with their expressive remarks and interactions with Mrs. Meers.

Drury Lane’s Thoroughly Modern Millie is a top notch professional production that is as good as any musical you will see of this size. The cast is filled with talented stars, the creative team is at its best, and the stage is strikingly magical. For musical theater lovers, this is the show you want to see.  And for those new to the theater, this might be the musical that sucks you in to Chicago’s musical theatre scene.

Rating: ★★★

 

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