Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: The Musical

By Paul Moffett

It's not everyday that you see someone perform the jump-through-the-spinning lariat trick - in fact, you probably only remember it from those old films of Will Rogers - but you can see it done at the Derby Dinner Playhouse, by Bill Hanna.

There are other flashy physical stunts that the large cast of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" pull off, but the lariat is the topper in a staging that must be as healthy for actors as an aerobics session. Throughout the play there is much furious dashing about by everyone, if not as part of the immediate action, then as part of the stage crew carrying props on or off while someone else takes a solo.

The movie was Pacific Northwest-sized and scaling down the action to fit the Derby Dinner stage was like using a redwood for a bonsai. Not as huge as you might expect but pretty and workable in its own way.

With the book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music by Gene de Paul and new songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" followed the unusual road of being first a movie, then a musical, quite the reverse of normal. As producer Bekki Jo Schneider noted at the beginning of the evening, it took some additional acts of creative pruning and stuffing to put the musical on the Derby Dinner stage.

Melissa Combs as Milly managed to carry off what in the latter quarter of the 20th Century is a peculiar role: young woman as wise matron, guiding not only the six rambunctious brothers of her husband to an increased maturity but the brides as well. It required a large voice to make it work. Combs has one and she used it to good effect.

John Sartor as Adam, the oldest brother who goes to town to find a wife and returns with Millie, did not manage to give his character the self-confidence that the role demanded. Rather, his portrayal of Adam was swaggering and insouciant and seemed more to draw the character as inept and pigheaded than stubborn for principle's sake.

Of course, it might be that the role was correctly drawn. The plot, which, if attempted as a current production, would have arrests warrants for kidnap and sexual assault floating across the stage instead of the errant piece of sheet music that fluttered down from above, was simply unbelievable except as a period piece viewed through gauze.

"Seven Brides" works on that level, however, and the physical enthusiasm with which the cast carried out the directions of Dudley Saunders and the choreography of Barbara Cullen made it happen. Indeed, it certainly looked as though the cast was having a fun time and that usually translates into a fun time for the audience.

"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" will run through July 14 at the Derby Dinner Playhouse.