Summertime…..fish are jumpin’ and I don’t know about the cotton, but the corn is not only high, it’s about as corny as it can get in “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.” That might sound like a negative, but the musical rom-com 1954 movie was an integral part of the Golden Age of Musicals. It’s supposed to be corny! Noted for its innovative choreography, “Seven Brides…” won the Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture as well as a Best Picture nomination. That the movie was almost three decades older than its Broadway stage version is just one of those little idiosyncratic facts.
Directed and choreographed by Penny Maas, this late summer offering from Riverside is lively and light as air. It’s not great drama; it’s not even a great story, being the stepchild of S.V. Benet’s “Sobbin’ Women” – a take-off from the ancient Roman story “The Rape of the Sabine Women.” It is, however, a fantasy version of what 1850s Oregon Territory must have been like when mountain men wanted wives and didn’t have eharmony to help them match up. They just kind of went in to town and carted them off – right?
At least that’s what we’re to believe in the story of Adam Pontipee (Wyn Delano) and his six rough-hewn brothers. His quick success in winning the heart of Milly Bradon (Teresa Danskey) gets off to a rocky start when she discovers that her love nest up in the Cascades is actually a dirty cabin with six uncouth brothers-in-law. Teaching them table manners is almost a breeze compared to making them fit for polite company and dance partners for the girls in town.
Conflict, such as it is, centers on the town’s bad opinion of the young swains to be sons-in-law and the long winter in which the abducted girls live in the house while the fellas are relegated to the barn. “Sabine Women” meet “Lysistrata” – except that any hint of physical desire gets re-routed through strenuous dancing.
That dancing, choreographed by Ms. Maas, appears to strain the limits of some performers’ capabilities, but is satisfyingly raucous in the series of dances in the “Harvest Social” and the “Spring Dance.” As is often the case when the choreographer directs, the art of acting itself can founder. Too many moments that could easily have a third dimension fall into the flat, over-the-top mode of shouted, unreal exchange. And while the premise itself is as unreal as ‘50s musical comedy gets, that doesn’t excuse the actors from making it real for us.
Mr. Delano and Ms. Danskey are a vocal match made in heaven with “Love Never Goes Away”; the Brothers, too, show some well-coordinated stuff in “Sobbin’ Women” and “We Gotta Make It Through the Winter”. All of this is performed to the tune of conductor Leigh Delano’s excellent live eight-piece orchestra.
Scenic designer Frank Foster, on the other hand, delivers a set that any high school theatre group would be proud of. The wood covered areas certainly work, but the flimsiness of the cut-out cabin strains credulity. Walls shouldn’t shiver when the actors walk in and out. As for the seven giant black stripes in the backdrop – it’s anybody’s guess what those are supposed to represent. Occasional, long conical telephone poles descended to, but didn’t quite touch, the stage. If those were supposed to be trees, they represent a variety unknown on this continent. Michael Jarett’s lighting is mostly clear and effective, but the odd colors – hot pink, for instance – between those black stripes are still a mystery.
Gaye Law’s muted candy colored costumes full of flounces and modest necklines hold up the concept of the 1850s West without the dirt and danger. And may I implore sound engineer Bethany Galyen, once again, to bring Adam’s mic down to a level that does not split our eardrums?
But given that this is “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers,” how critical do I need to be? No one wants heavy drama this time of year – we’re getting enough of that in the news. This is a show for fun, for some laughs, and a very good dinner.
Maggie Lawrence is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. She is a retired English and drama teacher.
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers”
WHERE: Riverside Center For the
Performing Arts (and dinner theatre)
CALL: (540) 370-4300 or visit riversidedt.com
PLAYING THROUGH: Sept. 24