I’ve been reading some reviews of the film version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, currently playing at Flat Rock Playhouse, which was the lower-budget musical MGM produced more or less concurrently with their pet project, Brigadoon. Comments have ranged from praising its entertainment value, particularly the highly energetic and memorable choreography from Michael Kidd (which you may have seen, if not in the movie itself, in a clip in That’s Entertainment.
Or you may not be a big musical nerd like me and actually have watched That’s Entertainment), to laments of its sexism, analysis of its allegorical representation of Manifest Destiny, parsing of its demonstration of class struggle and even a rather strange superego-ego-id Freudian interpretation. This is a play called Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, for heaven’s sake; calm down everyone. Sure the women are pretty vapid, with the exception of primary bride Milly, but the men are complete knuckle-draggers (albeit funny and charming ones with excellent dancing ability), and it is Milly’s strong will that the audience is clearly meant to value, not the pomp and swagger of the brothers as they open the show on a quest to “Get a Wife.” If you’re ready to take a ride for an evening through some Oklahoma-esque song and dance, this may well be the show for you.
Adam Pontipee and his six brothers live in a secluded mountain cabin, and Adam has first come to town to find a woman to wed who will take care of them. Adam, perfectly portrayed by Christopher Vettel, is kind of like if Homer Simpson were written for and performed by Gordon MacRae. Vettel’s voice, in the tradition of MacRae, is really a treat; his style of singing seems to have gone the way of this style of musical. He and the brothers (heeere we go: Preston Dyar, Michael McCracken, Timothy Ellis, John O’Malley, Austin Owen and Grant Jordan) all bring fantastic comedy and roustabout, misguided machismo to their roles. Their chemistry and physicality are big and impressive, and they commit to the spirit of the piece 1,000 percent. Sometimes these more old-fashioned shows (like last year’s FRP offering of Meet Me in St. Louis) have a tendency to feel just a bit uncomfortable being put on stage with modern actors. But everyone in this production is selling, and I’m buying.
Once Adam meets Milly, he is smitten, and asks her to marry him before the day’s out. She is skeptical, but easily convinced, and returns with him to his home, excited to be away from the rowdy men who patronize her restaurant and looking forward to being with just one man. Oops. She is quite horrified to learn that she is expected to care for the house and well-being of not just Adam, but the rest of the pack.
She quickly turns the tables on the lot of them and begins to wear the proverbial pants of the house. Allison Spratt is brilliant as Milly, having both a beautiful singing voice and the sass, tenderness, and intelligence to tame these wild mountain men. Milly convinces the other brothers that they may want to take on wives of their own, and teaches them the ways of courtesy and “courtin’” so that she may take them into town to meet the young ladies we counted six of earlier in the play.
Milly’s ways of etiquette — along with the brothers’ good looks — are effective in wooing the ladies, but the townspeople are not what one would call welcoming, and, as you may guess, hijinks ensue, and snowball (figuratively and literally) into the second act, as the men, inspired by Adam’s explanation of the Romans’ kidnapping “them sobbin’ women,” kidnap the girls and get trapped with them for the duration of the winter due to avalanche. Don’t worry! Everyone’s happy at the end!
All the elements in this production are well thought out and executed. The set, by Dennis C. Maulden is absolutely incredible; I can’t even tell you how many different milieus are accomplished by the multiple scenes sliding on and off stage, each one fully realized, elaborate, and thematically cohesive. Costumes by Bridget Bartlett and Janet Gray are equally evocative. Paige Posey’s direction brings the time period and style to life; the pacing is excellent, and transitions seemless. If you are familiar with the show, you know to anticipate the big, full-company dance number at the town social in act one, and this certainly didn’t disappoint. The famous Michael Kidd choreography is nodded to in intricate, fun choreography by Amy Elizabeth Jones.
And that’s what this show is really all about: fun. Seven Brides is silly, and the story is obviously simple, but it is entertainment above all.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers will be performed at Flat Rock Playhouse Wednesdays through Sundays through August 16. See http://flatrockplayhouse.org for more details.