by Julia L. Exline on September 12, 2017
Riverside Center for the Performing Arts presents Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, with a book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and music by Gene de Paul, including new songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. Penny Ayn Maas directs and choreographs a terrific ensemble for this fun, jovial musical. If your favorite thing about theater is large, lively song-and-dance numbers, then you absolutely should not miss this production!
Riverside Center has built an impressive reputation for themselves over the last twenty years, providing Broadway-level entertainment in the DC Metro area. I myself have been seeing shows here since I was a child, and can always count on consistent quality of entertainment. Their team of technical designers provides a strong foundation for their shows, with lighting designer Michael Jarett and sound designer Bethany Galyen onboard for Seven Brides. Musical Director Leigh Delano and supervisor Garrett Jones lead a live orchestra. Live music is a fairly recent addition to the Riverside family, and one that has been welcomed with high praise and fanfare. Musicians include Tony Moran on reeds, Michael Huffman on trumpet, Paul Rawlins on bass, Sam Carolla on percussion, and Luke Gray and Juliette Guillox on violin.
Scenic designer Frank Foster brings a cascading mountain range to the stage through beautifully-detailed backdrops, alongside handsome hardwood cabins and storefront set-pieces that transition seamlessly. Gaye Law’s costumes provide the main visual cue to the time this show is set in. With their ruffled dresses, billowy petticoats, and curls held tight with ribbons, the ladies are straight out of the mid-1800s. Fringed jackets and frayed pants show a stark contrast between the laboring mountain men and the polished townsmen– a class bias that rears its ugly head as the plot unfolds.
When a proud, virile lumberjack named Adam Pontipee (Wyn Delano, whose stellar vocals are worth the ticket price alone) arrives in a newly-settled Oregon town searching for a wife with the catchy song “Bless Your Beautiful Hide,” he quickly finds one in Milly Brandon (Teresa Danskey), a put-upon pub maiden who jumps at the chance to escape a life of cooking and cleaning for hordes of unruly men. She sings of her excitement in the number “Wonderful, Wonderful Day,” and follows Adam to his remote mountain homestead where, to her shock and disappointment, she finds…a horde of unruly men.
You see, Adam has six single brothers who live with him—a detail that he forgot to include while wooing Milly into his arms. From shy Benjamin (Ryan Skerchak) and picked-on Frank (Andrew Prowant), to the wild, brash Caleb (Colton Montgomery), this isolated band of brothers know nothing of manners or decorum. While gentle-natured and well-intentioned, the brothers are slovenly and uncivilized, and it’s up to Milly to whip them into shape so that they may find wives of their own. Daunted but determined, Milly takes on the task of teaching them standard etiquette, beginning with dance lessons in the number “Goin’ Courtin.” The choreography begins with the clumsy brothers stumbling their way across the stage before melding into a cohesive routine—the first of many more to come, with each one more exciting than the last!
Confident that the brothers are ready to mingle, Milly brings them to the town’s Harvest Social. The charming and fun brothers catch the attention of the local ladies, including Sally Roehl as Alice, Sydney Kirkegaard as Sarah, and Abigail Gardner as Dorcas. The dance numbers here are incredible, with acrobatic leaps and twirls, heel-clicking, hand-stands, and literal arm wrestling and a tug-of-war between the brothers and town suitors thrown in for good measure. The girls are smitten with the brothers, but their hard-nosed families are determined to keep them separated. When Adam talks his brothers into a bull-headed plan to fix the situation with the song, “Sobbin’ Women,” a chaotic snowball of circumstance and adventure ensues!
Yes, the social themes of this show can be a bit arcane and antiquated (your inner feminist can’t help but roll her eyes at times, it’s true), but the show does not take itself seriously, and neither should you. The ensemble here provides a collective outstanding performance, but what will stay with you for some time are the grand-scale dance numbers, my favorite being “Spring Dance,” which is heavily influenced by classic ballet.
Boisterous, rambunctious, and full of energy, I had a fantastic time at Riverside’s production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The show won’t be around much longer, so grab a pair of tickets while you can!
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30-minutes, including one intermission.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers plays through September 24, 2017 at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts – 95 Riverside Parkway, in Fredericksburg, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (540) 370-4300, or purchase them online.