CENTERVILLE — Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is one of the classic movie musicals of the 1950’s and ranks as one of the 25 greatest movie musicals on the AFI list. The story is based on Steven Vincent Benet’s short story, “The Sobbin’ Women.” This was adapted in 1982 to the stage using much of the original dialogue and most of the songs, while adding a few new songs into the mix. I need to state from the start that this movie is one of my personal favorites, as is the stage version; I have seen both numerous times.
The plot concerns Adam Pontipee and his search for a wife. He meets and marries Millie on a trip into town, and takes her home without mentioning that he has six brothers who will be living with them. She is not happy about this, but decides to make the marriage work, and sets about to teach the brothers how to court girls and eventually get them married. Adam, borrowing a plan from one of Millie’s books, gets the brothers to steal the girls away from town and strand them on the ranch until spring by creating an avalanche in Echo Pass.
The current production at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre presents this musical with fine style. The new theater is beautiful and allows for much more technical finesse than the previous Rodgers Memorial Theater was capable of. The set design by Robert Vaughn is beautiful and functional in the story telling. Costuming by Laurie Oswald is equally well-done and fits the time period of the story. The choreography by Susan DeMill is fun and energetic. The performances by most of the cast were also fun to watch. So with all of these good things going for it, why am I not giving this show a rave?
The answer to this has something to do with the love I have for this show. Too often musicals are approached as nothing but surface fluff. There are fun songs, some great dancing and a story that strings together the musical numbers. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a musical in which the singing and dancing actually help carry the plot and define the characters. Musicals, by their very nature, require a huge suspension of disbelief (with very few exceptions, people do not burst into song in daily life). To aid in that suspension of disbelief you need to care about the characters you are watching and sadly, in this production I just didn’t seem to care.
Director Alane Schultz caught the essence of the script, but failed to catch the substance of the plot and the characters. Ricky Parkinson’s Adam and Ashley Gardner-Carlson’s Millie were both energetic, had fine voices, sang their songs well, and performed with great talent; however, they seemed to lack the fire and purpose behind their characters. When they sang their solos, the songs didn’t seem to be a part of the plot, rather an opportunity for them to share their very talented voices with the audience. Unfortunately, I just didn’t believe either one of them in their roles.
This seemed to be the problem with most of the performers onstage. The cast was energetic, but there was little characterization. While most of the cast seemed to be “going through the motions,” there were some notable exceptions. I found my attention frequently drawn to Cameron Garner as Gideon, Tanner Rampton as Ephraim, Hanna Cutler as Alice, and Joan Dunn as Liza. Even in their minor roles, these performers displayed a depth of character and seemed to be having so much fun, that they were compelling to watch. All these performers were the MWF cast of the show. By history, opening night can always be a little rough and hopefully most of the criticism mentioned will work out throughout the run.
I want to emphasize that this was not a bad performance; it just didn’t achieve the sparkle and interest that I have seen in other community theater productions of this show. It is enjoyable and it is fun, it just misses the mark for me.