When people say, “They don’t write them like that anymore,” the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, now onstage at the Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre, might be just what they’re talking about.
This tale of a frontiersman who goes into town to find himself a bride, encouraging his six brothers to do the same, is certainly old-fashioned, not only in its simple storytelling but its approach to male-female relationships. We’re supposed to be amused, not outraged, that oldest brother Adam (William E. Masuck) picks orphaned waitress Milly (Wendy James) as a bride in lickety-split fashion, not so much because he’s fallen for her as that he and his brethren need a maid of all work. And of course don’t even get a feminist started on the way the boys slink into town to kidnap brides of their own.
But it’s all too silly to inspire any real wrath, especially when we know it’s all going to end up all right, with everyone getting what they want–thanks mostly to Milly’s cleverness and strength.
The 1954 movie, a classic in Cinemascope, was famed largely for its inventive Michael Kidd choreography, which turned such mundane chores as a barn raising into lively dance numbers and took full advantage of the wide screen and richly saturated colors. The 1979 stage version of the show by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay (utilizing the original’s Johnny Mercer-Gene De Paul tunes, and adding a few new songs as well) can’t reach for the scale of the film, but under the direction of Rick Kerby it manages to radiate a charm of its own.
Kerby’s familiarity with and fondness for Seven Brides (he both played in the show and cut his director/choreographer teeth on it, years ago) is evident throughout the production in every way, but especially in the athleticism of numbers like the dance at the town social or Sobbin’ Women. He’s rounded up a cast of some pretty strong young men (Jason Moore, Alex Beach, Joseph Rebella, Keston Law, Killam Tyler Johnson and Jason Ellis) for the brothers, and they pull off the most challenging feats of footwork with relative ease, after what was undoubtedly many hard hours of rehearsing.
Kerby was also lucky to snag Wendy James for Milly; not only she is strong vocally on numbers like I Married Seven Brothers and Goin’ Courting, but she adds a measure of zest and spunk to everything she does. It’s not easy for Masuck to match her, and he can’t quite achieve Adam’s swagger, but he manages to keep his character somewhat sympathetic despite his wrongheaded choices at almost every turn.
The production is aided by some eye-pleasing country costumes from Jean Boothby and by the bright, childlike surround of trees by Marc Lalosh, who also contributes projections that sweep us along with the mountain scenery and changes of seasons. Musical director Aaron Cassette and his musicians deserve credit, too, for powering the show’s energetic numbers and smoothly switching gears for the occasional ballad.
All in all, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a tuneful piece of Americana that wraps up the Manatee Players season with spirit and fun. The show continues through May 20; for tickets call 748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.