Sunday, March 05, 2006

7 Brides for 7 Brothers (Carousel)


Name your favorite musical film. If you are fairly typical your list probably included ‘MY FAIR LADY,’ ‘SOUND OF MUSIC,’ ‘WEST SIDE STORY’ and ‘CHICAGO.’ But, did you select ‘SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS’? You might be surprised that in recent favorite movie musical polls, Seven Brides came in third on one list and eighth in another. It was the only musical on those lists which was developed as a film and not transferred from the Broadway stage. It definitely makes my top five list.

In 1954 the film, loosely based on Steven Vincent Benet’s short story “The Sobbin’ Women,’ opened. The flick, which starred Howard Keel, Russ Tamblyn, Jane Powell and Julie Newmar was the sleeper hit of the year and has developed a cult following. Much of the popularity was due to the amazing choreography by Michael Kidd which took such mundane pursuits as chopping wood and raising a barn and made them into spectacular and enthralling visualizations.

In 1979, Jane Powell and Howard Keel reprised their film roles in an off-Broadway stage production, and in 1982 a full-blown Broadway musical opened to moderate success. It is the staged version which is now at Carousel Dinner Theatre.

The story is about Adam, a backwoodsman and Milly, who marries him after knowing Adam for only a few hours. Upon arriving at his cabin in the mountains, Milly is surprised to learn that Adam is one of seven brothers who inhabit the cabin. After a rocky start, the relationship flourishes and Milly teaches the younger brothers manners including how to dance. They are able to test their new “selves” at a barn-raising, where they meet six girls they like. The girls, of course, like the brothers, but due to a fight, the brothers are banned from town and the relationships don’t flourish.

Winter arrives, and the six younger brothers mope for their girls. Adam inspires his brothers to kidnap their lady loves. The girls, of course are upset and Milly is furious. She bans the brothers to the barn while the girls live in the house. Adam, who is also furious, leaves to live out the winter by himself. And, of course, since this is a traditional musical comedy, the brothers and the girls, and Adam and Milly find ways to work out their problems, and they live happily ever after.

Okay, so this isn’t a great story line, but it is fun. Well, it can be fun. For the material to work, it must be done with abandonment and enthusiasm. It must a hoot from beginning to end. It has to be bigger than life.

Unfortunately, the Carousel show, under the emotionally controlled direction and uncreative choreography of Chet Walker, is “nice” not “dynamic.” The cast spent lots of time in straight rows, stepping forward to sing their solos or speak their lines. This is just out and out bad staging. The choreography was repetitious, not always fitting the moods of the music.

Part of the problem may also be due to a limited rehearsal time that the cast had to prepare. Seven days does not make for developing the type of dance coordination and complete comfort with the material that a dance show like this needs. Add to that the necessity for seven superb male and female dancers and the task is daunting.

The show’s sprightly and often tender music is by Gene dePaul with creative lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Songs include, “One Man,” “Goin’ Courting,” “”Sobbin’ Women,” and “Wonderful, Wonderful Day.” Like the dancing, some of the song interpretations were missing the necessary texturing and proper mood.

Jennifer Byrne (Millie) is pretty, has a nice singing voice, but was much too sophisticated for the role. Randy Bobish (Adam) has George Clooney good looks and a nice voice. But, he failed to texture his performance so he came off as being unreal.

Curtiss Howard III was delightful as the youngest brother. Kyle DesChamps (Daniel) showed some great dancing skills.

Robert Kovach’s sets worked well. Dale DiBernardo’s costumes designs were era correct, but in a discussion following the opening night’s production several of the male dancers complained that the high-waisted pants made for difficulty in easy movement.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: To be successful, a production of ‘SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS’ requires extraordinary dancing, and the development of a love story that charms the viewer with warmth and wit. The production needs to be an imaginative romp. The Carousel show just doesn’t reach those levels. It’s not bad, it’s just not wonderful.