By EMILY JENNINGS FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Running a tavern in 1850s Oregon Territory would undoubtedly mean a lot of work, cooking and cleaning for an endless stream of coarse, ravenous lumberjacks.
No wonder Milly seizes the opportunity backwoodsman Adam Pontipee offers her on a visit to the tavern—marriage, and a quiet home nestled in mountain meadows.
Never mind that she hardly knows him. He seems nice enough, and certainly handsome. But perhaps the biggest draw is having only one man to take care of—it seems too good to be true.
Turns out it is too good to be true. Adam neglected to mention she would also be caring for his six rowdy brothers in their mountain paradise. Surprised and dismayed, Milly is nevertheless undaunted. She figures her best option is to marry them off—and she sets to work civilizing the unruly, uncultured men, instructing them on the mysteries of “courtin’.”
Things get complicated, however, when the overenthusiastic brothers decide to hurry things along, shoving aside social protocol and instead abducting their brides, cutting off any pursuit with an intentional avalanche.
Based on Stephen Vincent Benét’s short story “Sobbin’ Women”—which, in turn, was based on Plutarch’s account of the ancient Roman legend, “The Sabine Women”—this is the rollicking storyline of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” onstage at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts through Sept. 24.
“This is our 20th anniversary season and this is the first time [“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”] will appear on our stage,” said producing artistic director Patrick A’Hearn. “It’s been requested by our audiences and we’re delighted to give them what they’ve asked to see.”
Returning as director and choreographer is 20-year Broadway veteran Penny Ayn Maas in her eighth production at Riverside.
“It’s been a fun challenge,” said Maas. “With a show so well known for its dancing, I’ve worked hard to find that balance of honoring the movie’s genius while also giving the audience some new thrills.”
Unlike many musicals, MGM’s 1954 movie came first, with Michael Kidd’s imaginative choreography and music by Saul Chaplin and Gene de Paul garnering the highest praise. It won the Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture and was nominated for four additional awards, including Best Picture.
“Seven Brides” was modified for the stage in 1978 by Al Kasha and David Landay, adding a few new songs to the movie’s collection of popular hits like “Bless Your Beautiful Hide,” “Wonderful, Wonderful Day,” “Goin’ Courtin’,” and “Sobbin’ Women.” It was reworked again in 2005 by the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut with great success, and has been performed in regional theaters across the nation.
“If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll get a wonderful dose of nostalgia,” said Wyn Delano, who plays Adam. “If you think the movie is cheesy, or haven’t seen it, come anyway—you’ll be surprised how much fun it is with real people on the stage in front of you.”
Delano, a native of Los Angeles, has been performing in musicals since he was a child. He has a BFA in theater, earning it on scholarship at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, which is where he first met Maas, who is a professor there.
“With that deep baritone voice, he’s known more for playing villains,” said Maas, noting Delano played Jud Fry in Riverside’s 2016 production of “Oklahoma.” “While Adam is no saint by any means, it’s fun to see Wyn in a more heroic role.”
Delano trained with Metropolitan Opera baritone Vladimir Chernov at UCLA and has performed in productions at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium (“Restoring Love”) and The Hollywood Bowl (“Star Wars: In Concert”).
“The movie is a classic, but we get the chance to take that charm and bring it to life and make it more accessible to modern audiences,” Delano said. “There’s something very powerful about seeing people dancing at that level, the acrobatics, the excitement—it’s something you won’t want to miss.”
While the plot may not be complex, it has some contemporary messages, according to Maas.
“It’s really the comic version of what we encounter in relationships every day,” she said. “Milly thinks her marriage will be perfect—and then discovers some unexpected obstacles. But instead of giving up, Milly is a fighter—love is worth fighting for.”
Teresa Danskey, who plays Milly, brings a lot of heart to the show, Delano said. “She’s an amazing actress, she has this vulnerability to her, while at the same time her strength and determination really shine through; and to top it all off, she’s got a fantastic voice and is a great dancer.”
Originally from Fort Wayne, Ind., Danskey is back at Riverside after performing last winter as Dyanne in “Million Dollar Quartet.” She has a number of other Washington, D.C., regional theater performances to her credit, such as Sister Mary Robert in “Sister Act,” and Nellie in “South Pacific.”
“My siblings and I watched [“Seven Brides”] every year growing up,” Danskey said. “Milly is a dream role of sorts, the epitome of the leading lady from the golden age of musicals—determined, intelligent, beautiful, strong-willed and of course very much in love.”
With 23 in the cast, the audience gets acquainted with every one of them, particularly during the dance numbers.
“People will just be blown away by the dancing,” said A’Hearn. “And it’s not just dancing—it’s gymnastics, acrobatics, one number incorporates long poles. It’s very athletic.”
And, he added, the sound is incredible. “Hearing them all singing together is superb,” A’Hearn said. “It’s one of those feel-good musicals, just a classic. Great for everyone to see.”
Emily Jennings is a Stafford-based freelance writer.