|Laura Anne Kenney and Rob Stuart|
photo:Nick Woodward-Shaw; Lighting: Jeff A. Davis
by Jennifer Haaland
"Don't grab her like she was a flapjack!" Milly (Laura Anne Kenney) scolds her six, single brothers-in-law. The early line during Hale Centre Theatre's excellent production of a sweetly antiquated "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" that opened this weekend in Gilbert spoke volumes.
How could a cute jab at backwoods roughnecks of early America's frontiers possibly sting as a necessary present-day reprimand? Karina Bland's '#notokay' story in Sunday's Arizona Republic (10/9) about the nasty groping and assault culture we're living in makes the Hale show at once a societal reality check and a lovely escape.
Like a kidnapped girl thrown over your shoulder, the show flopped on Broadway in 1982. But the much loved original MGM blockbuster in 1954 is a fabulous example of the movie musical glory days. The story follows an Ancient Roman legend 'The Rape of the Sabine Women,' but turns it into a more wholesome family tale about the pursuit of exactly the title's allusion, cowboy style. The Hale cast and creative team celebrated that movie glory with fanfare and hoopla galore.
Director Cambrian James made the story live and breathe through his signature choreography. During "Social," danceable surfaces, tables for instance, appeared and disappeared like magic. There was a fancy competitive hoedown. Petticoats peeked out from ruffles while the ladies leapt and twirled when the guys raised them in beautiful, countrified ballet lifts. With not an unused inch of dance floor, the effect was heightened by color coded-costumes for each brother/rival/courted lady trio.
The vocal ensemble's pipes were as strong as their hoofin'. The guys chorus during "Sobbin Women" earned Best in Show. Their most fun acting episode was likely the Seven Dwarfs-like scene when Milly demanded the bedraggled guys hand over their red, one-piece long johns.
Kenney's portrayal of Milly was a joy. A graceful, scrappy character is a tough combination. Her strong chest voice and demeanor played well, illustrating her character's conviction that "things worth having don't come easy."
Adam, the show's father figure of a big brother, was played by Hale favorite Rob Stuart. While pretty formal in posture and presentation amongst his un-tucked, raucous brothers, Milly's attraction to his manners and kindness made her rash acceptance of a marriage proposal almost buyable. That this good-hearted man later incited a brawl and advocated for manly violence was a bit of a stretch.
Laughter and applause were in abundance on opening night. The audience best defined itself in a single reaction. When Adam growled, "What do I need manners for? I already got me a wife!" the line was met with actual boos.
Through earnest belief and gorgeous choral tone, the story's theme didn't falter. To the show's and Stuart's credit, Adam's truest moments by far were in the second act, when he held the newborn child and later sang the "Love Never Goes Away" reprise.
In happy storybook form, ideals like love, morality and family triumph in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." Hale's sincere delivery quelled for a couple hours the need to brace against reality.