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STAGE REVIEW : ‘Seven Brides, Brothers’ Cast Outshines Material

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The trouble with staging corn-pone musicals such as “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is that the play itself is extraordinarily mundane. Even if the production is top-notch, even if the singing is glorious and the acting is sublime, the result of watching this musical comedy is still: “So what?”

Frustratingly, the Moonlight Amphitheatre’s production is top-notch, forcing one to wonder what this ensemble could have done with worthier material. Co-directors Kathy Brombacher and Ray Limon have assembled a great cast of singers and dancers to perform in this show, but to what end?

“Seven Brides,” which debuted as a 1954 MGM film and was later adapted for the stage, is virtually devoid of human drama and is completely uninteresting.

Set in Oregon in the mid 1800s, the Lawrence Kasha/David Landay story is absolutely insipid, even by musical comedy standards. Adam Pontipee (Joshua Fischel) lives on a farm with his six brothers and decides he needs a wife. Adam heads into town, meets up with Milly (Marci Anne), sings her a song and then proposes on the spot. Milly, perhaps stricken by his lovely tenor, accepts.

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Adam drags Milly back to his secluded home and informs her that, as part of her wifely duties, she will be cooking, cleaning and looking after his six brothers. Milly pouts for an instant and then immediately sets about transforming her mountain men in-laws into proper gentleman . . . so they can find wives and get out of her new house.

Subsequently, the brothers head into town to find wives, get in big trouble and then get out of big trouble. Later, everyone gets married and lives happily ever after. The end.

The plot is a hollow vehicle for three lavish dance numbers. First, there’s the “Social Dance,” then the “Spring Dance,” all leading up to--yep, you guessed it--the “Wedding Dance.” Thankfully, these dance numbers are quite good.

Aside from co-directing, Limon also choreographed “Seven Brides.” His imaginative routines brought a sense of grace and professionalism to the musical. Limon incorporated impressive athleticism into the dance routines, and the dancers seemed competent and well-rehearsed.

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Limon choreographed two recent Moonlight productions, including “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which was nominated for a 1991 San Diego Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical. His obvious talent comes to the fore in “Seven Brides.”

In the lead roles, Fischel and Anne both present strong, confident characterizations.

Fischel, a mountain of a man, exudes an appropriately unbridled demeanor as he stalks about the stage and belts out his solos. Anne is perky and sugar-sweet throughout the play, a picture of purity and fortitude.

As the featured brother, Gideon, Eric Kunze shines in a Moonlight production. His voice is truly beautiful, and his contribution to the ballad “Love Never Goes Away” stands out in this show.

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Aside from the script, the only shortcoming in this staging is Don Ertel’s sets. Ertel’s log cabin designs look appropriate enough, but seemed in constant danger of falling over.

Excluding this one extremely visible problem, the Moonlight production is solid and professional.

‘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. Based on the 1954 MGM film and “The Sobbin’ Women,” a short story by Stephen Vincent Benet. Directed by Kathy Brombacher and Ray Limon. Choreographer is Ray Limon. Musical director is James R. Cook. Sets by Don Ertel. Costumes by Sue Team and Kimberly Johnson. Lights by Ron Vodicka. Stage manager is Coy Lea North. With Joshua Fischel, Marci Anne, John Bisom, Roger Cotton, Erik V. Garcia, Eric Kunze, John Nettles, Christopher Wuebben, Alexandra Auckland, Lisa Batiz, Mary F. Dicus, Kimberly Johnson, Heather Paige and Shahara Ray.

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