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Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (07/08/1982 - 07/11/1982)


 

New York Daily News: "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

They dance themselves silly in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," a clean-as-a-whistle stage remake of the 1954 movie musical of that name which came to the Alvin last night starring an animated Debby Boone. They also grin a great deal, and utter whoops through their body mikes. And the whole thing goes down like a dose of Maalox.

Which is to say that it's smooth, not necessarily bad for you, and passes by almost unnoticeably. Even in its congruous time, a generation past, it would have seemed pale stuff alongside the likes of "Oklahoma!" and other works in the Rodgers and Hammerstein school from which it derives.

The movie attracted a good deal of favorable attention, largely, I seem to recall, through some spirited footwork and a housebuilding routine not attempted on stage.

The setting, the Pacific Northwest of the 1850s, remains the same, and so do several of the original Johnny Mercer-Gene de Paul musical numbers - perhaps all, inasmuch as film musicals have always employed fewer songs than stage ones.

The songs, whether the originals or the new set, filling the entire second half, by the team of Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, are far from outstanding, and the book is, as I have already suggested, bland and predictable. The story, inspired by a Stephen Vincent Benet poem called "The Sobbin' Women," a pun on "the Sabine women," is about seven parentless and unmarried brothers running a farm without the services of a cook-housekeeper. Adam, the oldest, wins the hand of a town waitress named Milly in five minutes flat, and while she doesn't bargain on six other men in the household, she speedily adjusts to it. They're proper young roughnecks, you see; no real harm in the lot. Besides, they're all dancers.

What Milly doesn't adjust to right off is the abduction of six other town girls by the remaining brothers. Piqued at his bride's summary banishment of the menfolk to the barn until a parson can slog his way over after the spring thaw, Adam spends the winter sulking someplace in the hills. Come spring, though, the parson arrives, Adam gets over his pet and returns, the couples are paired off legally and, flowers having sprung out of the footlights, a spanking wedding dance ensues.

The small and engaging Boone sings and cavorts with enthusiasm and some skill, and David-James Carroll plays the bearded leading man with sufficient swagger and vocal thrust. The host of supporting dancers, which includes the brothers and their captive women as well as contingents of lumbermen and townspeople, number among them some agile hoofers and an attractive brunette dancer with the unlikely name of Manette LaChance. Kasha (Lawrence) has staged the work briskly, keeping the whole thing under two hours, with intermission, just as if it were a movie once again with five showings a day, and Jerry Jackson has devised the unoriginal but lively dances and musical staging.

Robert Randolph's sets, Robert Fletcher's costumes, and Thomas Skelton's lighting are all slickly professional for a work that, like many another musical revival these days, comes to Broadway as a final resting place rather than a beginning. This particular enterprise, for example, has been seen in six cities since opening in San Diego last December, and its star played some Ohio summer theaters in an earlier production last year. Before that, Howard Keel and Jane Powell, who created the roles on screen, launched a lengthy tour in this adaptation in Dallas three summers ago.

I label it family entertainment but for the fact that kids today - say, from nine on - are already too hip for this sort of stuff, being well into rock and stories more on the order of "One Bride for Seven Brothers." Grandma might get a belt out of it, though.


New York Daily News
07/09/1982

New York Post: "'7 Brides': Debby Boone does justice to the piece"

It is pioneer time in old Oregon at the Alvin Theater where last night those seven brothers arrived to abduct their seven brides. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? Well, no, it's not precisely a new musical, but it is only partly used, and freshly reconditioned.

Almost factory-fresh - with perhaps a little more emphasis placed on the factory than on the fresh.

But don't get me wrong. This is an exuberantly enjoyable family show. And it has a terrific plus in Debby Boone, who is squeaky-fresh, but refreshingly sexy - a sort of American Julie Andrews.

Miss Boone can sing, act and even dance a little - she has all the makings of a major Broadway star.

Many films have been made out of Broadway musicals. Many Broadway musicals have had books based on earlier film feature scripts.

Yet comparatively few musical scores have started in Hollywood and been adapted for the stage - Gigi here in New York, Hans Christian Andersen in London, come to mind. Yet the process is a rare one.

One of the dangers of translation from one media to another is that show musicals almost always have more music to them than movie musicals - it is the nature of the beast.

Here in Seven Brides, which has been adapted by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, from Stanley Donen's 1954 film and its source, Stephen Vincent Benet's The Sobbin' Women, the score has had to be considerably augmented.

There are only six songs left of the original film, which had music by Gene de Paul and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and seven new songs have been added by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. The new songs sound remarkably like the style of the old songs - but it is the old songs you leave the theater humming. Admittedly I doubt whether, in an unusually sugary number, I'm Glad That You Were Born, Mercer would have had a rhyming scheme based on "higher," "inspire," and "choir," but who can tell?

The overall look and sound of the piece is of a '50s musical - a spin-off from those hallowed '40s hits, Oklahoma! and Annie Get Your Gun, yet with a certain brash originality of its own.

Lawrence Kasha's staging of this saga of how mountain men acquire wives with a certain ungentle persuasion, has zip, but a sad error of judgment has been made in the dances.

The dances in the movie were staged by Michael Kidd and, danced by the likes of Russ Tamblyn and Jacques d'Amboise, they became a classic of film choreography. The stage show called out for a major original choreographer but called in vain.

Jerry Jackson, who was entrusted with the delicate task of at least equaling Kidd at his own game, is probably a dangerously adequate Las Vegas choreographer. But he has no originality whatsoever, and his dances rarely, if ever, rise above the level of good-natured, modestly efficient TV hoofing.

This adds to the air of summer stock that at times endangers the production. The scenery by Robert Randolph at its best cheerfully evokes the Americana images of Currier and Ives prints, but it is not often at its best, and too often look as though it was produced on the cheap.

The central setting of Pontipee House, for example, suggests a road show version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, an image that this particular musical should be at special pains to avoid.

The cast is possibly more notable for its gusto than finesse. The six dancing brothers - their fraternal identity is established by having their hair stylist use the same hair bleach on them all - work almost excessively hard, and their brides while simpering with spirit, still simper.

However, Miss Boone in the old Jane Powell role of Milly, the girl who tames the mountains and the men who hunt them, is a delight; sassy, saucy and sugar-spun sweet. A super lady.

As the crass but well-meaning hero with retrogressive views of women's place in the homestead (views the present show tries unavailingly to ameliorate), David-James Carroll sings well and exudes manly charm. He goes well with Miss Boone.

So there it is, a family show with two endearing performances, an enthusiastic cast, and music you will either have remembered or thought you did.

It is an attempt - miffed in choreography and pure production values - to recreate a Broadway we will never see again. It was a time of night many people will enjoy remembering.


New York Post
07/09/1982

New York Times: "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

So how does one begin to describe ''Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,'' the threadbare touring package that mistakenly unpacked on Broadway last night? Perhaps it's fitting to start with the brothers themselves. There are indeed seven of them - all singing, all dancing - but what in heaven's name, one wonders, has happened to their hair? On close examination, it seems that someone decided to transform all the brothers into redheads - and then abandoned hope in mid-dye job. The result is an unmatched collection of strawberry-streaked chorus boys who, while purporting to be rugged farmers in 1850 Oregon, look for all the world like clowns.

''Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,'' the fifth musical bomb to be planted in the Alvin in 10 months, has its other lunacies, too. As directed by Lawrence Kasha, its scenes don't so much end as lurch into darkness. The sets, by the sometimes admirable Robert Randolph, are flimsy and dreary in a 1950's fashion that hasn't been seen since - well, since Mr. Randolph's last show at the Alvin, ''Little Johnny Jones.'' This musical also marks the Broadway debut of Debby Boone. To which one might well say, bring back Donny Osmond!

The inspiration for this enterprise is the 1954 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie musical of the same title. In its original incarnation, ''Seven Brides'' was less than thrilling, yet let's be grateful that this show's collaborators didn't choose to monkey around with ''The Band Wagon'' or ''Singin' in the Rain'' instead. Nonetheless, the original ''Seven Brides'' did have one major strength: its galvanic Michael Kidd choreography, danced by an illustrious, high-flying team of brothers that included Russ Tamblyn, Jacques d'Amboise, Matt Mattox, Tommy Rall and Marc Platt.

The movie also offered a few pleasant songs in its generally standard-issue Gene de Paul-Johnny Mercer score. Some of those songs (notably ''Wonderful, Wonderful Day'' and ''Goin' Courting'') have been preserved here, outfitted in appealingly old-fashioned Broadway arrangements by Irwin Kostal. They are, however, overrun by eight new numbers from Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, last known as the perpetrators of ''Copperfield.'' For this occasion, this team has come up with one tuneful cornball ballad (''Love Never Goes Away''), as well as a shameless, God-invoking inspirational piece that apparently aspires to repeat the success of Miss Boone's legendary hit single, ''You Light Up My Life.'' The rest of the score might benefit by being left unmiked.

The energetic choreography, attributed to Jerry Jackson, attempts, with fitful success, to simulate Mr. Kidd's style, but one waits in vain for a full rendition of the movie's famous barn-raising number. In fact, one waits through most of Act I for a full-fledged dance, period. The two hoedowns in Act II are pretty much variations on the first, though one of them, set in the spring, is framed by plastic flowers. For added ballast, the choreography is often accompanied by cartwheels, clapping jags, mock fisticuffs and cries of ''ya-hoo!'' and ''yippee!''

The remainder of the time, which doesn't pass like lightning, is devoted to Lawrence Kasha's and David Landay's book. As in the film, the scant story is Stephen Vincent Benet's transplanted reworking of Plutarch's tale of the Sabine women. But it's not until after intermission that the brothers finally get a move on and kidnap their unwilling brides. Up until then, there are gags about the brothers' longjohns, about a bed that collapses on the hero and heroine's wedding night, about the etiquette of courting. Act II's big knee-slapper is a line containing the word ''outhouse.''

The hero is played by David-James Carroll, whose sturdy singing voice and colorless personality valiantly uphold the Howard Keel tradition. In the Jane Powell role, Miss Boone sings ably and smiles constantly - in the remote, rigidly ungiving manner of a veteran professional gladhander or beauty-pageant contestant. The star's acting skills are minimal, but when her hair is up and her forced good cheer is particularly frosty, one can picture her doing a rude impression of Nancy Reagan on ''Saturday Night Live.''


New York Times
07/09/1982

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