Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers takes place in 1850s Oregon when Adam Pontipee comes to town from his remote ranch to find himself a bride. He quickly meets the spunky Milly who sees truth in his eyes, so she agrees to marry him, thinking that a life with Adam would be much better than waiting tables in a town of mostly uncivilized people. What Adam fails to tell her is that he's got six brothers who live with him and he is bringing Milly home so she can take care of them all. Adam does have some true affection for her, but Milly quickly realizes that cooking and cleaning for a houseful of seven men isn't exactly the life she hoped for herself. She also discovers that Adam and his brothers lack social skills, so she goes about showing them how to become better men by teaching them manners, showing them how to speak to women, and even teaching them how to dance. The boys, all eager to get wives of their own, take Millie's advice, yet don't exactly court the women in town in a traditional way, which causes issues with the girls and their families and also puts a wedge between Adam and Milly's relationship. But the show is called Seven Brides for Seven Brothers after all, so even though I don't need to say "spoiler alert" you know there is going to be a wedding or maybe even seven before the curtain call.
Based on the 1954 MGM movie musical of the same name that starred Howard Keel and Jane Powell, with music and lyrics by Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer, and Stephen Vincent Benet's "The Sobbin' Women," Seven Brides was turned into a Broadway musical in 1982 but it flopped and closed after playing just five performances. The original musical featured songs from the film plus additional songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn and a book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay. It has since been updated into a much better show and that is the version that Hale is presenting. So, while the show might have flopped on Broadway, the additional work the creative team has done have made it a fun and lively musical.
Hale's large cast does an exceptional job delivering on the show's need for talented singers and dancers who can handle the heavy dance and vocal demands of the show. Laura Anne Kenney is sensational as Milly. Her strong, clear voice excels on Milly's solos and she expertly shows how Milly is strong, feisty and spunky but also incredibly tender and sweet. As Adam, Rob Stuart is equally as good in portraying this very stubborn man who doesn't quite know how to show how much he cares for someone or act the way a husband is supposed to act. When something happens to Adam in the second act that he isn't quite prepared for, Stuart is superb at showing the tenderness that has always been underneath this man's rough exterior.
Adam's six brothers are portrayed by actors who provide distinctive, rambunctious characters. Brandon Brown is a stand out as the youngest of the brothers who is learning how to become a man. His trio of "Love Never Goes Away" with Kenney and Stuart is quite beautiful. Also, Stephen Serna provides some laughs as the oldest brother Benjamin and, as Frank, Allan DeWitt's athletic dance moves are superb, as are the humorous moments as Frank gets angry whenever someone calls him by his birth name, Frankincense.
Director and choreographer Cambrian James consistently delivers some of the best acted and danced shows in the Valley and Seven Brides is no exception. His energetic and varied dances here are rousing, engaging, and entertaining, but he also ensures that the heart of the show, shown through the simple yet interesting characters, is strongly felt. While Brian Daily's set design is fairly minimal it does quickly set the various locales needed. Mary Atkinson's color-coordinated costumes that match up each brother with each bride, which is a carryover from the film, are a bright, fun and humorous touch. Jeff A. Davis's lighting provides lovely hues in a wide range of colors to beautifully portray the various times of day on the mountain.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers may not be a musical classic but it is filled with such an abundance of charm and rambunctious joy that it doesn't really matter if the plot is simple. With a talented cast, strong direction, beautiful creative elements, and wall to wall infectious dancing, Hale Centre Theatre's production is an evening of infectious fun.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers runs through November 26th, 2016, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling (480) 497-1181
Directed and Choreographed by Cambrian James