Thursday, August 06, 2009

7 Brides for 7 Brothers

They're dancing up a storm at the Wells Fargo Pavilion this week.

A rollicking production of 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,' choreographed by Pepper Clyde and directed by Leland Ball, returns to the Music Circus after a three-year hiatus. Ball now has directed this play three times for Music Circus, and Clyde has choreographed all previous productions for the venue.

Experience shows.

Based on 'The Sobbin' Women,' a 1928 short story by Stephen Vincent Benet, the musical began its life as an MGM musical starring Jane Powell and Howard Keel, with music by Gene dePaul and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It was hugely popular. A subsequent stage version - directed by Lawrence Kasha, with Powell and Keel reprising their roles - was less successful.

But an improved version - with additional songs (music and lyrics by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn) - had a brief run on Broadway in 1982, and has found new life in theaters such as Music Circus, where it is a big favorite.

The story actually had its origins with an eighth century legend of the founding of Rome and the realization by Romulus, its first king, that since his followers were mostly male, they needed some women to ensure the city's survival. As a result, they raided the nearby Sabine tribe and carried off some virgins.

It's a thin plot on which to build an entire musical, but a meaty plot line is irrelevant when gifted with such lively dancing.

The current incarnation of the story is set in the Oregon wilderness. The seven Pontipee brothers realize that if they had a woman around the ranch, she could cook, clean and keep the place tidy. Since they've been unsuccessful at keeping a housekeeper, the brothers decide that one of them should find a woman to marry.

Adam (Joseph Mahowald), the eldest, is elected to go to town and return with a wife, along with various other supplies that are required.

Once in town, Adam finds Milly (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan), a feisty waitress in a local eatery. What Adam lacks in romantic ability he makes up for in persuasion, and Milly agrees to marry him that day, and return to his wilderness cabin.

She is, however, unaware that marriage to Adam also comes with six unruly brothers.

Mahowald and Donovan are a likable couple, with the latter having the raw voice of, say, an Annie Oakley, as she gradually tames the mountain men and insists on their civilized behavior. But she also demonstrates a lyrical tone in songs such as 'Wonderful Day' or 'Goin' Courtin,' ' as she teaches the younger brothers how to woo a woman.

The most famous scene from the film is the 'Social Dance,' where the Pontipee brothers begin to win the women away from other townsmen at the monthly town social. This sequence also is a high point in this Music Circus production, although the incident ends in a fight between the Pontipee brothers and all the other men.

The sad result: The Pontipee brothers are banned from the community.

Lovesick and lonely, and with Adam's urging, they sneak back to town at night and kidnap their would-be brides. An avalanche closes the only road to the Pontipees' spread, preventing the townsfolk from rescuing the kidnapped women, who are forced to wait out the winter with the men.

But there's no hanky-panky going on, as Milly tosses the men out of the house and into the barn. She and the woman live in the house until the spring thaw, when love also begins to blossom among all the couples.

And in the end ... but do I really need to tell you?

Clyde has assembled a core of top-notch dancers in both the Pontipee brothers - Steve Schepis, Nathaniel Shaw, Ryan Jackson, A.J. Hughes, Richard Bulda and Shawn Perucca - and their town rivals: Kurt Domoney, Tyler Russell Warren, Kevin Loreque, Tim Hausmann, Gabriel Williams and Drew Franklin. The dance numbers are vigorously athletic, and they bring cheers from the audience every time.

The women aren't quite as athletic, but that in no way minimizes the contributions of Merrill West, Miki Berg, Elisa Nixon, Robin Masella, Tiffany Sudol and Kristen J. Smith. They're all excellent.

This lively, upbeat production of 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers' will set your toes a-tapping.

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