Pittsburgh CLO has opened the 2013 season with its dancing shoes primed to impress. After the tapping feet of circa 1930s "42nd Street," the musical theater company pulls ups its bootstraps for "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." We're transported this time to 19th-century Oregon, where mountain men were rough and tumble and apparently danced with athletic grace, while womenfolk had to be light on their feet to keep up -- or stand firm to be heard.
There are a lot of old-fashioned notions about love, pride and the battle of the sexes, but sparks fly when the courting and dancing are in full swing.
The show opens with six battling Pontipee brothers and the beautiful baritone of George Dvorsky ringing through the Benedum Center rafters as it did in 2006, when the company last performed "Seven Brides." He contemplates marriage in that opening number, "Bless Your Beautiful Hide," and in no time at all is hitched to Milly, an unsuspecting town girl who thinks she's headed for a quiet farm life with a tall handsome farmer. Instead, she finds that she's "married seven brothers" and is expected to cook, clean and care for them all. Her only hope for peace: to civilize the scruffy lot of Pontipee boys and marry them off.
As Milly, Mamie Parris has a lovely voice -- she's defied gravity as Elphaba in a "Wicked" national tour -- and has the spunk to command attention as the only woman on stage through a chunk of the first act. Adam towers over Milly, but she has the moral high ground. Of course, if he would just admit his feelings for her sooner than later, we could all go home even quicker than the two-hour run time (plus intermission), but what fun would that be?
The most impressive dance number is the raucous "Social Dance," when the brothers come down from their rustic home to look for brides and challenge their buttoned-down counterparts in town. The Pontipees teach the unwelcoming townies a thing or two about balletic leaps and bounds, pirouettes and aerial splits as Sha Newman's intricate choreography builds to a confrontation for the girls' affections.
Callan Bergmann is a standout as youngest brother Gideon (the Russ Tamblyn role in the 1954 Stanley Donan movie), whether singing toe to toe with Mr. Dvorsky, pursuing ditzy Alice (CLO newcomer Sarah Blodgett) or performing acrobatic flips with ease. Gavin Stewart has fun as Frank, who hates hearing his full name (Frankincense), and Alex Michael Stoll makes a believable partner for flirtatious Dorcas, the striking Andrea Weinzierl. Brian Steven Shaw, Scott Braetang and David Paul Kidder make welcome debuts for CLO as the rest of the high-stepping Pontipee clan, and if there's anyone you can't keep straight, don't worry -- the couples are color-coded.
Adam leads the brothers down the path to potential disaster by helping them kidnap their perceived soul mates from the dance, and they escape to the farm, cut off from the girls' pursuing families by an avalanche -- a cool effect that shook my seat.
They arrive home to Milly's utter disdain, and the battle is on to see which will thaw first: the snow or Adam's stubborn refusal to accept Milly's role as family matriarch.
It was unfortunate when Mr. Dvorsky's microphone conked out during "Sobbin' Women," the comedic reference to "Sabine women" that closes the first act, but even without the volume turned up, he could be heard halfway back in the orchestra. He came back strong, though, on the demanding "Where Were You," before Adam leaves Milly and the boys and girls to fend for themselves while he struggles with his feelings.
There are a lot of hands in the making of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," which was adapted from the screen version by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, with Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn adding songs to the Johhny Mercer-Gene de Paul originals. The show had a week's run on Broadway in 1982, then was fine-tuned for the road through a tour in 2007.
The musical's relatively short running time and spirited courting (I lost count of Adam and Milly's big kisses after a while) and dancing and good intentions outweigh the inherent creepiness of women falling for their captors, so that double sevens come up lucky for Pittsburgh CLO.theaterreviews
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960.