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Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay
Lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Music by Gene de Paul
New Songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn
Directed and Choreographed by Josh Rhodes
The Muny
August 13, 2021

Edward Watts, Kendra Kassebaum
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

The Muny’s latest show is both a repeat and a debut at once. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a well-known show that the Muny has staged several times before, and it’s based on a classic film. The version presented at the Muny this season, though, features a few script revisions and a new framing device to help make the story, which has been seen by many (including myself) as problematic, more palatable for modern audiences. The basic story is intact, though, as are the memorable score and spectacular dancing that this musical is famous for, performed by an excellent, enthusiastic cast headed up by an especially impressive leading lady.

The familiar story is here, with a few thoughtful twists. The show is now framed by a series of scenes that set the main story as a flashback; a tale told by an older Milly (Kendra Kassebaum) to her grandchildren. This framing device serves to not only allow Milly to share thoughts to the audience about the whole situation, but it also works as one of several elements that help to bring the focus more on the women of the story. The main story follows mostly the same way as before, as the rough mountain man Adam Pontipee (Edward Watts) arrives in town looking for a wife, and quickly woos the young, strong-willed Milly. What he neglects to tell her, though, is that he has six younger brothers (Harris Milgrim, Waldemar Quinones-Villaneuva, Ryan Steele, Garrett Hawe, Kyle Coffman, and Brandon L. Whitmore) who all live with him at his remote mountain cabin. Milly is initially (and understandably) upset, but she then becomes determined to teach the brothers manners, eventually taking them to a social in town, where they meet and become mutually smitten by local young women (Leslie Donna Flesner, Sarah Meahl, Kristin Yancy, Carly Blake Sabouhian, Shonica Gooden, and Mikayla Renfrow). Adam, meanwhile, becomes upset about Milly’s turning his brothers into “mama’s boys” and eventually leads his lovesick siblings on a mission to town to abduct the objects of their affects, inspired by a story in Plutarch’s Lives. This situation has been revised a bit, as well, which fortunately ends up making the brothers look better, except for Adam, although the change also raises the stakes and increases the tensions in Adam’s relationship with Milly.

I won’t give everything away, but for me, the result of the “script tweaking” is a story that makes a little more sense. It still features those memorable songs like “Wonderful, Wonderful Day”, and “Goin’ Courtin'”, along with plenty of energetic, athletic dancing ably choreographed by director Josh Rhodes, but the new recasting of this as telling the story through Milly’s eyes and the (slight) fleshing-out of the “brides” characters works to make the whole show easier to take, even with some of the more cringe-worthy moments still intact or, in some cases, amplified.

The staging at the Muny is dazzling, with a universally excellent cast and that dynamic choreography, all play out on Michael Schweikardt’s stunning set that brings the mountain setting to life backed by Caite Hevner’s excellent video design and making excellent use of the Muny’s turntable. Another aspect of this production that I appreciate is that, unlike previous stage productions I’ve seen, it’s not a carbon copy of the film. Amy Clark’s costumes are colorful and period-appropriate, but they don’t seem to be based on those in film. There’s also excellent lighting by Jason Lyons and sound by John Shivers and David Patridge, and the wonderful Muny band and music direction by Valerie Gebert. 

The cast, as previously mentioned, is impressive, led by remarkable performance by Kassebaum, who gets to showcase her excellent voice, but also gives us a strong, relatable Milly who goes on a believable emotional journey throughout the production. She’s the heart of this version of the show, with a truly vibrant portrayal. Shaw, as the charming but pigheaded Adam, is also strong, with a bold baritone voice that’s evident from his first note on “Bless Your Beautiful Hide”. His chemistry with Kassebaum is strong as well. The rest of the cast is strong in support, with all the Brides and Brothers making good pairs, and Whitmore and Renfrow especially standing out as youngest brother Gideon and his love, Alice. There’s also energetic support from the adult and youth ensembles, bringing the 18th century mountain town to life in a mostly upbeat, believable way.

Another notable aspect of this production is that this wasn’t the originally planned opening night, with the August 12th performance having been postponed due to thunderstorms. Even though this was a “raincheck” performance, I don’t think anybody who didn’t know that would have been able to tell.  Kudos to the cast and crew for an exuberant, memorable production. It’s a crowd-pleasing show made even more so by the revisions and, especially, it’s superb cast and production values. 

Cast of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

The Muny is presenting Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in Forest Park until August 18, 2021

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