SUNDANCE — I’m glad Utah keeps the flame of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers alive. For some reason, this ’50s movie is performed onstage and enjoyed on video regularly in the state. The latest venue to keep the tradition going is Sundance, which kicked off its run of the musical last night. This may be the best location to ever stage Seven Brides. The outdoor venue is at the foot of Mt. Timpanogos, and the entire stage is backdropped by evergreens. Perfect for the story of seven backwoodsmen who grow a mite lonely in frontier Oregon, and come down to town to find some wives.
It’s the kind of story that could only come from the American musical’s heyday in the 1950’s. To today’s audience, the story can delightfully silly or downright campy. A few jokes may have dimmed with time: I doubt anyone knows what sparking is—if you do, please leave tell me in the comments—and the plight of the Sabine women is unfortunately no longer a part of public education. And while some have whined that Seven Brides is misogynistic, that’s just shallow. The show is about men learning to be men by taking a shower, not getting into bar fights, and showing women some respect. The boys don’t get loving until they do—in fact, the womenfolk make them “sleep in the barn with the rest of the animals.” (For a second opinion on this topic, read the director’s note in the program.)
Milly is the strongest character, a “right, spunky lady” who works hard and demands respect from her quicky husband. Jenny Latimer fills the role with the voice of an angel, strong and confident. I can’t imagine a finer set of pipes. Opposite her is Adam, played by Kevin K. Goertzen, who also displayed a dynamite voice with surprising range and manly vibrato. All their songs were musical highlights, including “Wonderful Day” and “Love Never Goes Away.” The pair boasts impressive resumes and has performed together before in The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Andrew Robertson was perfect as little brother Gideon, who grows to butt heads with the sometimes pigheaded Adam. His love Alice was adorable, played by Sarah Wilson with the right amount of innocence and youth. Also, the repartee between bosom buddies Martha (Nicole Reed) and Liza (Maddie Hall) was entertaining, and Ben Jarvis’ expressions as the hotheaded Frank were a highlight.
Director Christopher Clark treated the audience to a fresh reading of the text, finding new humor in an already quality script. The chases and fights were spectacular, and showed off his directing prowess. I wished I could record and watch these action scenes over and over again to catch the movements of every couple. The dancing and tumbling choreographed by Nathan Balser were also sensational. The brothers’ challenge dance against the suitors not only lived up to, but sometimes exceeded the original film. These two aspects put this production in a higher rung than most productions of Seven Brides. The original book was by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, with lyrics by John Mercer and music by Gene de Paul. One delightful change in the score by musical director Korianne Orton Johnson was the overlapping of the thematically similar tunes “Lonesome Polecat” and “We Gotta Make It” to nice effect.
The folks behind costuming, lighting and set design all deserve some credit. First, the costumes: the brides’ quilted spring dresses were eye-poppingly beautiful and made sense in the story in a way I’ve never seen. Bravo, costume designers Carla Summers and Kristi Summers. The lighting design was also wonderful. Jaron Kent Hermansen and Lawson Bendall took advantage of the openness of the stage to provide even lighting throughout. I particularly liked the soft interior scenes. Stephen Purdy‘s set design fit right in with the trees around it. The stage was so large, it almost felt like a pageant. Action happened way up in the wings, and even the orchestra pit was decked out. I liked the fireplace piece, although I wondered why the aspens on the ends of the grove appeared to be floating. My friend thought I was being picky and they weren’t and I shouldn’t mention it, but I couldn’t stop staring at those dang trees.
A few other areas that may be improved include microphone problems that rendered the first number and an important scene with Milly inaudible. I also wished for a little more conviction and character from Goertzen as Adam, which perhaps contributed to the first half hour feeling a little disjointed on the whole. Some of the brothers’ throwaway jokes were also lost from rushing lines.
Most productions of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers are community affairs, so it’s unlikely that you’ll find another performance with this level of talent and production behind it. So get a ticket soon friends, it’s almost sold out.