WEST VALLEY CITY — Seven Brides for Seven Brothers has long been a favorite musical for me, so I was excited to have the opportunity to review the Hale Centre Theatre’s production of it, directed by Dave Tinney. I had high expectations and I was not disappointed.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a stage adaptation of the film of the same name (and based on a story by Stephen Vincent Benet), tells the story of Adam Pontipee and his new wife Milly. She is excited to care for just one man, but upon arriving on Adam’s farm learns that he lives with his six brothers. Milly learns to love her new brothers-in-law and hopes to see them all happily married. She teaches them about courting and how to be gentlemen. Adam’s tactics for helping his brothers wed are a bit different, however, which helps create the conflict and climax of the story.
This show is solidly cast with Quinn Dietlein as Adam Pontipee and Erin Royall Carlson as Milly Bradon. Both are capable of singing the score (with music by Gene de Paul, Al Kasha, and Joel Hirschhorn and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Kasha, and Hirschhorn), but what I enjoyed most was the chemistry between the two performers. Often this relationship can seem like two strong personalities fighting to be in charge, but that was not the case with this production. Dietlein and Carlson created a warm, flirtatious interaction that was endearing and fun to observe. The characters’ relationship was not a domination by one, but rather a cohesive partnership. Milly does not allow herself to be walked all over, and Adam, though proud, learns a lot from Milly. There was laughter in their marriage, along with disagreements. I appreciated that Milly was charmed by Adam and not afraid to flirt back. Carlson’s interpretation of Milly was warmer than others that I have seen. She showed that a woman can be fun and warm, while still being strong and determined.
Additionally, Adam was a strong head of the house, who truly cared for his brothers. He was the classic big brother with his teasing, but quick to come to a brother’s defense. I also liked that when he came to town to get a wife, it wasn’t just about him. When he sees other men grabbing at Milly, he puts them out on their ear. Although his quick courting manners are a bit brash, he is gentle in the way he treats Milly.
The character who really came to life for me with this production was Dorcus, played by Brittany Sanders. She was woman who knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to do something about it. In the scene where the girls are abducted from town by the Pontipee brothers, Dorcus practically abducts herself. This was a fun little twist to the scene that also made the scene a bit less traumatizing. Sanders made several character choices that added an extra splash of humor to her scenes, such as her method for hiding Benjamin during the rescue scene. She was a character I wanted to be friends with and not just figure on the stage.
One of the reasons I adore Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is because it showcases the talent of actors playing the brothers. There is just something about seven men singing and dancing on stage together, and this production had a strong male cast. I especially enjoyed “Sobbin’ Women” and “Going Courtin’.” Music director Anne Puzey should be pleased with how the cast blended together. As much as I enjoyed listening to the men sing, I enjoyed the ladies’ singing just as much. “We’ve Got To Make It Through the Winter” was one of my favorite numbers purely for hearing the cast blend together and intermingle their parts. Another number that stuck with me was “Love Never Goes Away” for the duet sections between Dietlein and Matthew Sanguine, who played Gideon.
This show’s cast was was a triple threat. They could sing, they could act and they could dance. The challenge dance and fight scene during the town social was well choreographed (by Dave Tinney) and well executed. I especially enjoyed the dance off between Pontippees and the town men. During the fight scene there were so many interesting things to watch; it would be worth going multiple times just to watch the fight scene and see all of the variety of things that were happening during it. The moment that had me chuckling was when Adam almost accidentally hits Milly in the the chaos and she hauls off and slugs him in the gut. It was fun to watch the women folk joining in instead of standing idly by and fretting.
I’m always curious to how the set and staging will be accomplished at the West Valley Hale, with it being theatre in the round. Production and set designer Kacey Udy did a fantastic job of creating a set that was both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Scrims dropped down from the rafters with woodland wilderness painted on them. This helped create the illusion of Adam traveling through the wilderness on his way into town. When the scrims rose a beautifully painted wooden floor with a circular border of stone became the base for the show. Set pieces flowed in and out through the wings and were lowered from the ceiling to create various locations in town, on the Pontipee farm, and in the wilderness. Every set piece was well constructed and beautifully painted.
I loved the colorful costume designs by Suzanne Carling. There were so many rich colors and bold patterns, and they appeared in earnest as the show progressed further along. The girls’ quilt block dresses were color, cheery, and a great way to show how the girls passed their winter time in the house. The men’s costumes were also colorful. Often in shows with lots of romantic couples the costumes are color coordinated. That was not the case here. At first I wanted the help connecting the couples, but I actually enjoyed the choice not too in the end. It was more realistic, and allowed for color to spread throughout the entire cast and not just in bunches.
Hale Centre Theatre’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was a delight from start to finish. It is a fun night out for anyone who loves a good musical comedy. I highly recommend seeing it if you can take the opportunity.
[gox]Seven Brides for Seven Brothers plays Mondays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Saturdays as 12:30 and 4:00 PM through April 8 at the Hale Center Theater (3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City). Tickets are $18-37. For more information, visit www.halecentretheatre.org.[/box]