By GAIL CHOOCHAN THE FREE LANCE–STAR
If you’re trying to catch a woman, please don’t use a bear trap.
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” now onstage at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, is a boisterous battle of the sexes as it explores love and relationships in the Oregon frontier during the 1850s. A delightful throwback to the golden age of musical theater, this feel-good production just sings in the hands of director and choreographer Penny Ayn Maas.
The story begins simply enough: A young backwoodsman comes to town in search of a wife. After passing judgment on other ladies, he comes across a pretty woman, who checks off all his boxes. Not only is she “pretty and trim but not too slim,” but she knows how to cook and swings a mean ax. Looks are exchanged and they are married. And we’re only 20 minutes in, folks. The real fun is yet to come.
It’s easy to see why Milly falls for Adam and agrees to marry a guy she barely knows. He’s tall, charming and handsome, plus she would only have to cook and care for one man—or so she thinks. Adam, conveniently, fails to mention his six rowdy brothers back at home. If you think Adam is a little rough around the edges, wait until you meet the rest of his clan.
Wyn Delano and Teresa Danskey are paired beautifully together as Adam and Milly. Both are gifted with these big vibrant voices; Delano is quick to alert audiences to that as he walks onto the stage with a rousing rendition of “Bless Your Beautiful Hide.” He’s perfect as the overly confident and chauvinistic Adam, but there’s also a gentle side to his character.
Danskey is absolutely sublime as Milly, offering a combination of grace, strength and sass in this show where her character is surrounded by macho men. When Adam slaps her behind, she slaps back. She brings a naturalness and kindness to her performance, as she schools the Pontipee brothers in the ways of the world and is protective of the town’s young ladies.
Being the big brother, Adam has his own way of doing things, but when he finally comes around during his final scenes with Milly, it’s a beautiful thing.
The musical got its start with the 1954 MGM film, which starred Howard Keel and Jane Powell as the leads and a young Russ Tamblyn as little brother Gideon and future “West Side Story” tough guy. It was later staged for Broadway in 1982, which paired Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul’s classic tunes with new songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. You’ll notice the differing styles, but it all works seamlessly.
One of those newer tracks, “One Man,” a punchy number with modern-sounding jazz flourishes, is followed up with the super-fun oldie “Goin’ Courtin’.” After Milly teaches the Pontipee brothers some manners and how to dance, the barbarians-turned-gentlemen are ready to find a bride of their own.
The town’s big harvest social is where Maas’ choreography skills truly shine. The ensemble’s energy is bountiful as they incorporate backflips, pirouettes, aerials, and even poles and axes, into the exuberant and exhausting dance sequence. And the ladies create such beautiful shapes across the stage as they kick up their heels and swirl about in their colorful and voluminous dresses.
The Pontipee boys may be well-groomed, but they’re still new to this whole wooing thing. After listening to their big brother, who’s been reading one of Milly’s books about the Romans and “the sobbin’ women,” they decide to cut the courtship and kidnap them.
The poor girls are taken against their will, some with sheets thrown over their heads, all in the name of love. Sorry, but in an age of stranger-dangers and young women being held captive in basements, this scene is a bit disturbing to watch, at least for me. But just toss real-world thoughts aside and go with it. The boys truly care for the girls and realize their mistake and are banished to the barn for the winter. And as the title implies, it’s a happy ending for everyone.
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is a rollicking musical that has everything: a superb cast, gorgeously sung melodies and oh-so-glorious dancing. You’ll want to say “I do” to this production.