Glenn Casale and Patti Colombo dust the cobwebs off Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, the stage adaptation of the 1954 MGM musical movie classic, offering audiences at the La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts far more than simply two hours of old-fashioned G-rated family entertainment. With Casale and Colombo in the driver’s seat, this ‘50s chestnut seems fresh and new, honest and real, and thrillingly grown-up.
Any Hollywood buff will tell you that Seven Brides for Seven Brothers The Movie starred Howard Keel as Adam, a mountain man with six frisky brothers, and Jane Powell as Milly, the young woman he marries after a whirlwind courtship of all but a few hours.
Though Milly recoils at having left her waitressing job for more of the same, once she has gotten to know Adam’s brothers, she finds herself softening towards them, and even goes so far as to instruct them in the fine art of “Goin’ Courting.”
The boys then attend a church social, where each falls for a town maiden. Trouble is, there are ten men for every girl in town, and each of their beloveds already has a suitor who doesn’t cotton to his girl being seduced by a scruffy mountain man.
That’s when Adam, a fan of the classic Rape (i.e. Abduction) of the Sabine Women, chimes in, telling his brothers about “them sobbin’ women, who lived in the Roman days,” and before long, his impatient siblings have followed Plutarch’s example by rustling the girls of their dreams as if they were cattle. Unfortunately, they’ve forgotten to bring along a preacher, so the weddings must wait till the spring (an avalanche having cut them off from civilization till the thaw).
Though the boys do eventually end up regretting their misogyny, their initial ‘50s attitudes (18-or-1950s, take your pick) make Seven Brides For Seven Brothers’ plotline a bit of a hard sell in 2013, or would without Casale and Colombo in charge.
It helps that in addition to the movie’s half-dozen or so Johnny Mercer/Gene DePaul classics, which include “Bless Your Beautiful Hide,” “Wonderful Wonderful Day,” “Goin’ Courtin’,” and “Sobbin’ Women,” the stage adaptation adds another half dozen by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, including the lovely “Love Never Goes Away” and “Glad that You Were Born” and a pair of winners (“Where Were You?” and “I Married Seven Brothers”) added to the 2005 Goodspeed Opera House revival.
Still, if Seven Brides For Seven Brothers has stuck around as a regional theater favorite, it’s been mainly thanks to some of the liveliest dance numbers ever seen in a Hollywood movie musical or on the Broadway stage, choreographed on celluloid by the legendary Michael Kidd.
Here, choreographic duties are in the hands of the award-winning Colombo, reunited with director Casale, her brilliant Cathy Rigby Is Peter Pan collaborator, the dynamic duo giving audiences a Seven Brides For Seven Brothers so fresh and vital and energy-packed that even its creaky book seems reborn.
There’s hardly a song that Colombo hasn’t turned into a dance sequence, from the folksy “Gallant And Correct” to the exuberant “Wonderful, Wonderful Day” to the infectious “Goin’ Courtin’” to the grand “Wedding Dance/Finale” that ends the evening with fireworks.
Then there’s “We Gotta Make It Through The Winter,” a number usually played for laughs as the six unmarried bros moan and groan about how many months lie ahead till spring allows them to wed their brides. Here, Casale and Colombo give us six authentically horny young men, whose testosterone build-up causes them to fantasize that the objects of their affection (and lust) are right there in the barn with them, flesh-and-blood females tempting them with their pink-and-white prettiness and nubile sex appeal. Like dogs in heat, these men can’t resist rubbing against anything that promises relief, and in the end, the sextet are so filled with unreleased spunk that shirts get ripped open and off as the number reaches its climactic beats.
Still, the award for best song-and-dance number of the show, if not of the entire year, is a “Social Dance” that pits brothers against suitors for the hands of their would-be brides in an ever more athletic, energetic, acrobatic musical sequence whose excitement keeps building and building to so thrilling a climax that audience reaction could probably set a La Mirada Theatre record for length and volume of applause and cheers.
Casale’s directorial genius is reflected, too, in his choice of leading man and lady.
It’s been far too long since Kevin Earley has performed on our L.A. stages, his return as Adam making it abundantly clear why the West Coast-turned-Broadway star has been missed. No matter how misogynistic Adam can get, with Earley in the role, we never stop liking and rooting for him. And when Adam launches into songs like “Bless Your Beautiful Hide” and “Where Were You?”, it’s crystal clear that we haven’t heard a voice like Earley’s since… well since he relocated to New York a half-dozen or so years ago.
Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is equally blessed by the presence of Beth Malone as Milly. Resisting the temptation to cast a traditional ingénue in the role, Casale gives the part to The Marvelous Wonderettes’ feisty Betty Jean, an inspired bit of casting that makes Milly every bit Adam’s equal. With Malone giving orders, it’s no wonder the brothers follow them (and love her for it). Malone’s comedic gifts enrich the role as well, and as for her pipes, well just wait till you hear “I Married Seven Brothers” or “Glad That You Were Born” as only the SoCal gem can sing them.
Solo and duet-wise, it’s all Adam and Milly’s show, with the exception of youngest brother Gideon, who gets to join eldest brother and his bride in the simply gorgeous “Love Never Goes Away,” and since it’s one of L.A. musical theater’s hottest young newcomers, Neil Starkenberg, playing and singing Gideon, the role is in stellar hands.
Still, as this production makes perfectly clear, it’s its choreographer and dance troupe who make Seven Brides For Seven Brothers either sink or soar, and with triple-threats as gifted as those on the La Mirada stage, soar this production indeed does, again and again.
They simply don’t get any better than Broadway-caliber triple-threats Kim Arnett (Ruth), Keith A. Bearden (Frank), Heidi Buehler (Martha), Scott Frausto (Joel), Ethan Le Phong (Luke), Ashley Anderson McCarthy (Alice), Melvin Ramsy (Carl), Tanner Richins (Jeb), Brian Steven Shaw (Daniel), Tro Shaw (Sarah), Hannah Simmons (Liza), Starkenberg, Eric Stretch (Ephraim), Kim Taylor (Dorcas), Carson Twitchell (Caleb), Karl Warden (Benjamin), Andrew Wilson (Zeke), and Armando Yearwood Jr. (Matt), sure bets for Dance Ensemble Of The Year.
Completing the all-around splendid cast are Emma Bradley (Emma), Doug Carfrae (Preacher/Mr. Hoallum), Natasha Harris (Mrs. Sanders), Brantley Kearns (Mr. Perkins), and Karen Volpe (Mrs. Hoallum).
Musical director extraordinaire Dennis Castellano conducts the sensational La Mirada orchestra. As for the production’s topnotch design package, lighting designer Tom Ruzika makesthe show’s rented sets, Jess Goldstein’s colorful period costumes, Sarah Wolfe’s great hair and wig design, and Terry Hanrahan’s marvelous multiple props look even more terrific. Josh Bessom’s sound design is generally quite good, but from where this reviewer was sitting, volume levels could stand some adjustment to make sure that lyrics get heard above the orchestra.
Jill Gold is production stage manager. Additional kudos go to casting director Julia Flores, assistant choreographer/dance captain Warden, assistant lighting designer Karyn Lawrence, assistant stage manager Jess Manning, production manager Buck Mason, and technical director David Cruise.
In lesser hands that those of Casale, Colombo, and their sensational cast, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers could easily have fizzled. Instead it sizzles more electrically than ever before. Doubting Thomases are hereby advised to cast hesitation aside and catch this utterly fabulous production, one of La Mirada Theatre’s and McCoy Rigby Entertainment’s absolute best.
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.
April 13, 2013
Photos: Michael Lamont