Los Angeles Theater Review: SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (La Mirada Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on April 18, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: Talk about a musical with a strange history! It begins with the Ancient Roman legend “The Rape of the Sabine Women” — attributed to Plutarch — followed by Stephen Vincent Benét, who transferred the tale to Tennessee in his short story, “The Sobbin’ Women.” Then comes the 1954 Stanley Donen MGM musical film (which takes place in 1850s Oregon) about the lusty Pontipee brothers who follow the advice of their newly married eldest, Adam, and decide that the best way to get a bride is to kidnap her. The songsmiths in the movie — which is chiefly memorable for Michael Kidd’s dazzling choreography — were Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer (who would go on to pen Li’l Abner).

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of La Mirada's "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."

In 1982, a barely altered stage version of the same name arrived on Broadway with additional songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. For the libretto, Al’s brother Lawrence (who also directed), along with David Landay, transferred practically the same dialogue and the same scenes in the same order as the movie. It had two failed pre-Broadway tryouts following a 1979 U.S. tour, but as with the character of Adam, kidnapping something (in this case, the movie) and turning it into what you think it should be (in this case, the musical) just takes perseverance. But not everything has a happy Hollywood ending. Kasha & Hirschhorn had just won back-to back Oscars for “The Morning After” from The Poseidon Adventure and “We May Never Love Like This Again” from The Towering Inferno. Clearly, their work on disaster movies suited their stint on the Great White Way: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers flopped and closed after five performances.

Since then, from Madrid to the West End to U.S. Regional Theaters to the Goodspeed Opera House (where the show was heavily revised with a few extra songs added), Seven Brides has galloped on the boards like a horse that never won a race.

The whole shebang is so preposterous and old-fashioned that you may be willing to dismiss it and vamoose before the remaining 6 Pontipee brothers (who are practically the same characters) and their abducted darlin’s (as 3-dimensional as the chorus of Oklahoma!) end up doing what we all know they are going to do: Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of La Mirada's "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."get hitched. The dang show just keeps getting musical comedy-er and musical comedy-er, with a silly story that isn’t helped by the largely forgettable music.

Well, here’s your chance to discover just why it flopped and why you should see it anyway. The ridiculously rousing and surprisingly satisfying Broadway-caliber revival which opened last weekend at La Mirada offers three things that keep the libretto and score from being stillborn on arrival: The most fantastic dance sequences you will ever see on a stage; earnest and surprisingly funny performances; and enough testosterone to fuel a power plant.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of La Mirada's "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."Patti Columbo (who choreographed the show at Goodspeed) teams up again with McCoy/Rigby (for whom she choreographed Peter Pan), and has assembled a team of powerhouse dancer/gymnasts to showcase her remarkably boisterous choreography. More athletic than your average Cirque show, the heart-stopping dancefest keeps us spinning on this Mad Tea Cup of a show until we soon realize it’s over and haven’t had time to pooh-pooh the plot.

You could, I suppose, reason that the sappy show is about a woman’s ability to civilize menfolk, in that Adam’s bride, Milly, after she marries Adam almost on sight, returns to his backwoods cabin and teaches the boys table manners, courtship and the need for sexual restraint during a long, hard winter. But I can’t figure out what Milly sees in Adam in the first place: He comes across as a pigheaded redneck who makes Petruchio look like an exemplar of gallantry; and when he escapes to the high hills after an argument, initially refusing to see his new-born daughter, he appears less Musical Comedy Leading Man and more obstinate ass. Still, Kevin Earley sounds better than ever as Adam, and “Bless Your Beautiful Hide,” his opening number taken from the film, will stay with you for days until it feels like an earwig chewing through your brain (which I guess is a good thing). Belter Beth Malone goes from sensibly goofy to staunch prairie woman as Milly, pounding out songs which should mostly never see the light of day.

It’s a good thing Milly teaches the brothers to dance in “Goin’ Courtin’,” because these boys will please everybody from the Orange County Blue-Hairs to West Hollywood gym rats. Tossing their shirts to the Oregon Trail, these muscular mules barrel turn and stag leap with such virility that you may be inspired to do some log-splitting. It’s superior summer stock on steroids. Fascinatingly enough, the timber-cutting Casanovas even have macho names: Karl Warden (Benjamin), Carson Twitchell (Caleb), Brian Steven Shaw (Daniel), Eric Stretch (Ephraim), Keith A. Bearden (Frank), and Neil Starkenberg (Gideon).

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of La Mirada's "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."

Director Glenn Casale ensures that the show flows like water down a flume, but did he really allow Costume Designer Jess Goldstein to create those matching Frontierland outfits for the siblings and their sweethearts? Really? They’re wearing the same color patterns when they meet for the first time? Really? And here’s an interesting detail: the gorgeous tree-lined set design — including a mining town in perfect perspective and even an avalanche — is uncredited in the program. Was it delivered by the Wells Fargo Wagon?

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of La Mirada's "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."

The entire ensemble yip-yaps and hoo-haws to perfection, and Josh Bessom’s sound design ensures that we hear every word, but he needs to coordinate with Musical Director Dennis Castellano, whose beefy orchestra competes with the performers; at first I thought my hearing aids were turned on too high until I realized that I don’t wear hearing aids.

It’s a shame that family-friendly mediocre musicals like Seven Brides, Little Women, and The Secret Garden are given so much attention while classics that actually deserve remounting languish in the wings. In the meantime, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers glitters like a freshly struck Mother Lode, so enjoy it before someone takes it into the theatrical assay office and reports that it’s actually fool’s gold.

photos by Michael Lamont

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
presented by McCoy Rigby Entertainment
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
ends on May 5, 2013
for tickets, call 562.944.9801 or visit La Mirada

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Cris Franco April 19, 2013 at 9:15 am

Tony, thanks for this informative (and highly entertaining) review of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. Love that you provide so much background on this musical’s bumpy road to revival-hood. Sounds like I’m going to have to make a trip to La Mirada soon to catch it!


Nick April 28, 2013 at 6:30 am

Excellent review. Just saw it yesterday and your review is exactly right and very entertaining too.


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