Enjoy a 7&7 Tonight

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Last night, I caught a performance of Runaway Stage Production’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Community theater may not be Broadway-level snazzy, but Runaway’s production was a great way to pass an evening in a cool theater watching a hot, high-stepping, dance-fest of a performance. It’s not quite as high energy as the film, of course, but the Sacramento-based theater group puts on a lively show nonetheless.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers happens to by my all time favorite musical (and yes, I am a musical fan, you got me). Made during the Hollywood musical’s heyday, the 1954 film with Jane Powell and the incomparable Howard Keel – who made singing-Mountain-Man sexier than you’d ever think possible – was only later turned into a stage production (and not until the late 70s at that). And here-in lies the productions only problem: the inclusion of several “original” songs not featured in the film just don’t fit, stylistically or otherwise, with the rest of the original score. (The messag here: eventually, you should rent and watch the original film).

Last night’s show featured Scott Reese as Adam Pontipee, the rugged Oregon frontiersman who heads to town to stock up on supplies for the tough Northwestern winter and decides, while he’s at it, to pick up a wife because with seven brothers back home, the house is getting a tad messy. Don’t fret – it gets more pro-woman as the show goes on – becoming a great snapshot of the American home at several points in its development. Reese’s performance was strong – but perhaps overly-restrained. Despite being the first of the Seven Brothers, the role of Adam can come off quite small with less than Keel-level effort behind it. But when Reese let it out, full and robust, he easily carried his scenes.

Except of course when he was joined by Andrea St. Clair’s Milly.

St. Clair channels Jane Powell when she delivers her spoken lines – whether schooling the unruly 6 brothers on manners or on how to court a girl, or dishing out more than supper in her fights with Adam. When she sings, she’s evocative of Bernadette Peters – clearly loving the chance to really get into the song and reach the back row and beyond. Expressive and dynamic, St. Clair’s Milly is easy to admire as she tackles the American frontier and the American male.

The rest of the cast – the 6 townswomen and 6 Pontipee brothers keep the show going. The brothers are all animated and enthusiastic. The girls, in their old timey frocks hit the right mix of can-do womanness and girly affection for their suitors. Staging Seven must be a challenge when the film’s large-scale dance scenes (the first time Cinemascope was used to stretch the action to the now common proportions) – fitting that action into a fixed stage necessitates a lower level of high-kicking. This is also clearly not a professional group of trained dancers. But damn they look like they are having fun, and the music keeps everything light and fast.

I give Seven Brides for Seven Brothers 3 and half out of four couples for being a great introduction to a great show. I’ll definitely be checking out Runaway’s 2007 season, as well as their upcoming production of The Full Monty.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Saturday July, 29 at 8pm and Sunday July, 30 at 2pm, 24th Street Theater (at the Sierra 2 Center), 2791 24th Street, Sacramento; $17 Adults, $15 Students, $12 children or groups of 10 or more. Order tickets online, or by calling 916-207-1226, or at the door (all forms of payment accepted).

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