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St. Louis
August 2, 2000
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
By Judith Newmark
Post-Dispatch Theater Critic
Dance musicals - shows defined by choreography more than plot or even songs - are hot tickets on Broadway now and have been for several seasons. This week The Muny joins the trend with "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," exuberantly choreographed by Pepper Chase.
The director, Thommie Walsh, understands that the impact of this musical lies in its big dance numbers; he moves things along briskly to accommodate them. The plot is ridiculous - can we take it for granted that nobody really considers kidnapping a good route to romance? - and the songs are mostly so-so. The best ones - "Bless Your Beautiful Hide," "Lonesome Polecat" and "Wonderful Day" - were part of the score that Johnny Mercer and Gene De Paul wrote for the original version of "Seven Brides," a 1954 movie. Additional Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn songs contribute little to the stage version besides length.
But when the stage explodes in one of the glorious dance numbers, that doesn't matter. You just want it to go on and on - and it does. The dances are splashy in style, emotionally appropriate and long enough to satisfy the audience.
 
The dazzling "Challenge Dance" boasts an athletic style to show off male dancers as backwoodsmen vie with their citified neighbors for the attention of young women at a church social. "Spring Dance" combines a playful, flirtatious attitude - and more athletic high spirits - with a little ballet inflection for romance. The show's conclusion, "Wedding Dance," brings a strong American flavor (there are
hints of clogging) to a joyous celebration.
Like "West Side Story," "Seven Brides" uses dance to convey feelings with a compact eloquence that we recognize faster than words. Adapted from a story by Stephen Vincent Benet, "Seven Brides" builds its plot in the usual ways, with song and dialogue.But it relies on dance to give that story emotional resonance - and entertainment value, too.

There are also appealing performances from the principals, two impressive singers. James Clow - whose Muny roles include Curly in "Oklahoma!" - plays Adam, the head of a family living in the Oregon Territory in 1850. He goes to town to find a wife who will bring order to the pigsty of a cabin he and his brothers share on an isolated mountain. With good looks and a gallant gesture, he persuades a waitress to marry him on the spot.
Judy McLane plays the stunned bride with steadfast poise; a scene in which she does mountains of laundry and fixes a huge breakfast before dawn brings a striking touch of reality to the otherwise loony plot. When his brothers long for brides of  their own, Adam cheerily urges them to follow the example of the ancient Romans who hauled off the Sabine women - and they do. Then an avalanche traps the six town girls on the brothers' farm, for months. This is a musical comedy; it leads to love.
With their strong voices and unpretentious stage manner, Clow and McLane make a good couple. But they might make a good couple in any number of shows. The distinctive character of this production - youthful, frank, American - comes from its dance ensemble.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
The Muny
Reviewed by Denise Hill
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the Muny Theatre in Forest Park is as close to a perfect production of this show as I can imagine. James Clow and Judy McLane are perfect as the romantic leads Adam and Milly - they're attractive, they sing and dance well and they make a fabulous couple onstage.
 
I've raved about their work in previous Muny productions and this is no exception. They are supported by a solid ensemble cast of great singers and dancers where every personality shines as an individual but plays as part of the team.
 
I have seen productions of this movie musical transferred to the stage flop because the movie choreography is so athletic. Luckily this production had the talents of choreographer Pepper Clyde, who made the transition work perfectly. Beautiful costumes by Robert Fletcher and sets by James Wolk took the audience to the Oregon Territory in 1850 without having to suspend too much disbelief and director Thommie Walsh brought everything together in such a way that I could almost ignore the weak book by Lawrence Kasha and David S. Landay.
 
Clearly this production took what they were given and created something far better in return. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the talents of Britt Freund as Gideon. He stole the heart of the audience with his winsome portrayal of Gideon and his trio of "Love Never Goes Away" with Judy McLane and James Clow was a highlight of the show.
 
The audience was almost full last night and once word gets out about this production I suspect tickets will be scarce. This is the best production I've seen at the Muny this season. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is playing at the Muny in Forest Park through August 6th. Call 314-361-1900 for ticket information.
 
Seven Brides...spirited dancing, strong casting make for enjoyable evening
by Dan Hines

Today's Senior Network

Poor Judy McLane. She must think it is her destiny to be surrounded by scruffy brothers' acts. She played the part of the narrator with Donnie (sp) Osmond in "Technicolor Dream Coat," which featured the Biblical Joseph's ill-begotten siblings. At The Muny, she was the wife of Adam, who has six brothers who are examples of the value of having a good woman in the house.

The brothers steal the show. They are great dancers, they are actually almost believable, first as slob mountain men and later as moon struck lovers. Their dancing is great and they sing wonderfully.

Ms. McLane is a beautiful and talented ploy who teaches the "boys" some manners for courting, only to see everything go awry when Adam, played by James Clow, who has a wonderful voice that seems made for the Muny stage, convinces the brothers to emulate history and steal their brides like the Romans did with the "sobbin' women". (Actually Sabine Women.)

Clow
and McLane play well opposite each other. Let's hope that The Muny has them back for more opportunities to pair up.  There isn't much of a plot other to "Seven Brides", and really not any particularly memorable songs. But the athletic and vigorous dancing makes up for it. The costumes are colorful, and the "Brides" and the brothers seem to have a great time.

There were some microphone difficulties throughout the evening, but even that was okay. This wasn't meant to do anymore than leave the audience leaving, remembering the dance ensembles. If the reaction of the sold-out audience was any indication, The Muny succeeded.

Kansas City

Theater Review:
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers''
By ROBERT EISELE - Special to The Star
 
08/09/00
 
If the term family entertainment is code for pleasant, undemanding and largely forgettable, then Starlight Theatre's current production of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" certainly qualifies.
Based on Stanley Donen's 1954 movie musical from the glory days of MGM, "Brides" follows the tale of the seven Pontipee brothers who have carved out a life for themselves from the Oregon wilderness of the mid-19th century.
 
Their mountain retreat has an abundance of crops and livestock but a shortage of women. Eldest brother Adam (James Clow) sets out to rectify the situation by taking Milly (Judy McLane), the spunky cook and waitress from a nearby town, for his bride.
 
Though Milly is at first overwhelmed by Adam's six strapping siblings, she sets out to tame these rowdy mountain men by introducing them to the fairer sex. But the boys get a little carried away in the courting department and end up kidnapping six eligible women and ushering them off to their mountaintop cabin.
 
When an avalanche strands the men and their would-be brides, conflicts erupt between Adam and Milly about the most honorable way to make it through the winter. Suffice to say that the complications are ironed out in time for a mass wedding when the spring thaw finally arrives.
Clow and McLane are totally winning in the show's leading roles. Clow sports an attractive baritone and an engaging stage presence, and McLane has the kind of rafter-rousing theater voice that could part your hair from a hundred feet away.
 
Johnny Mercer and Gene De Paul's original movie score has been augmented with some anachronistically contemporary tunes by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschorn, which unfortunately lend the show a kind of musical split personality.
 
But the score has never been the strong suit of "Brides." This has always been a piece that lives or dies on the strength and scope of its epic dance sequences, and the Starlight production doesn't disappoint in that department.
 
Michael Kidd's original choreography was robust and athletic, designed to take full advantage of the wide-screen craze of the mid-1950s. Pepper Clyde's stage work takes up where Kidd left off, filling Starlight's cavernous confines with swirling acrobatic movement.
 
The "Challenge Dance" in act one is the show's most memorable moment, with the brothers throwing down the gauntlet to the women's more civilized in-town suitors. It is matched in intensity by a percussive, celebratory "Wedding Dance" at evening's end.
 
Director Thommie Walsh, a former collaborator of Broadway's legendary Tommy Tune, handles the directorial chores capably, keeping the action moving at a pace that doesn't call undue attention to Kasha and David S. Landay's threadbare book.
 
All content 2001 The Kansas City Star