In the Hale Centre Theatre production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” the audience says “oooooh” when Uber-chauvinist Adam Pontipee (Mark Knowles) says, “What do I need manners for? I already got me a wife.” Apparently, such unadulterated sexism is not to be tolerated.
And yet, audiences continue to go see “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” every time a theater produces it, despite the fact that it is perhaps one of the most sexist shows ever written. Maybe sexism is fine, as long as it’s accompanied by pretty singing and dancing; it’s only when it’s stated outright that it becomes a problem.
At any rate, Hale Centre Theatre’s production of the show is generally a solid one. Director Ron Jewett even manages to downplay some of the inherent chauvinism by making Adam an unsympathetic brute, and his six backwoods brothers a bunch of bumbling stooges. By comparison, Adam’s wife Milly (Meghan D. Parrish; normally played in this cast by Wendy Knowles) and the brothers’ six girlfriends/hostages come across as intelligent and strong — particularly Milly, whose sudden and inexplicable love for Adam almost seems plausible in this production, thanks to a commanding performance by Parrish.
Other stand-out characters are the jittery Caleb (Cary Charron) and laugh-snorting Sarah (Peggy Deming). The rest of the brothers and the girls, frankly, blend into one another rather seamlessly.
Hale Centre is famous for its state-of-the-art rotating stage, and it is used well in this show, without being overused (which would certainly be a tempation for me, if I had such a neat toy at my disposal). The avalanche effect is nothing short of amazing, and the effect by which the avalanche is removed at the scene change almost tops it.
The big scene in this show is generally the barn-raising/dance/fistfight with the brothers and the townspeople. There is some truly impressive dancing here, and the overall effect is good. But when you look at individual dancers and — especially — individual fistfights during the fracas, you notice that you’ve never seen anything that looked more fake and stagey.
That’s the show as a whole, in fact: impressive overall, but with much sloppiness in the individual moments. The “Love Never Goes Away” number, with Milly, Adam and Gideon (Eric B. Armstrong) all singing their differing views on love, is the emotional highlight of the show; but the breakfast scene in which Milly commandeers everyone’s underwear and then teaches them how to dance drags on endlessly. It’s a show that seems much better than the sum of its parts.
Quite a popular show, this one. It's always a hit whenever a Utah theater does it, and theaters do it fairly often. Not my favorite show, but that's not really the issue, I guess.