Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

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The Hale Center Theater Orem, once again defying the laws of physics, occasionally crams 24 very robust actors onto one tiny stage in the current production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” It seems impossible, and yet director Syd Riggs and choreographer Brent Thomas Mills pull it off expertly, the stage never seeming cramped, despite the fact that, during one or two scenes, there are about 12 too many actors on it.

But that is not the only thing about “Seven Brides” that defies logic. In case you’ve never seen the play or the movie, it’s about a family of seven two-fisted fur trappers — brothers who brawl, argue, wrestle and just generally raise a ruckus as they try to make a living in the frontiers of the Wild West. The eldest, Adam (Erik Christensen), decides to go into town and bag himself a wife, which he handily does, in the form of the intelligent and feisty Milly (Jenn Webb). Why does a girl like her agree to go off and marry a sexist pig like him after only one meeting? Good question.

Even better questions emerge later, though, when the six remaining brothers, whom Milly promptly turns into civilized human beings (much to Adam’s chagrin), decide they want wives, too. They all go to a barn raising and win the hearts of six girls in town, wooing them away from their current beaus. How do they do this? By dancing, apparently. (The Wild West was evidently very different from the way we often think of it.)

Ultimately, Adam convinces his brothers the best way to get the girls to marry them is to abduct them from their homes, drag them back to the family farm in the woods, and cause an avalanche behind them so the townspeople can’t come rescue their daughters until spring. How could he possibly think that’s a good idea? Good question. Also, how could his brothers possibly go along with it? Another good question.

The title of the play indicates what eventually happens, of course, but everything in between is nonsensical — at least when summarized on paper. Somehow, when it’s performed onstage — and performed with the talent, enthusiasm and conviction displayed in this production — it all makes sense. You almost don’t notice the absurdity of six guys running around the stage with girls slung over their shoulders like bales of hay.

This show has several really great scenes. When Milly teaches the six brothers about etiquette and “Goin’ Courtin’,” the whole group dances around the kitchen table like there’s no tomorrow. And in the barn-raising scene, where the brothers try to win the hearts of the girls, the dancing is occasionally a bit off, but it’s still charming in its klunkiness. Even better is the ensuing brawl, which is as carefully choreographed as anything you’ll see, but with the feel of absolute reckless abandon.

It’s that kind of sheer joy and enthusiasm that makes “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” work. Jason Garfield, Robert Land, Derek Call, C. Mo. Hanners, Trent Sutton and Justin Martin all give great performances as the brothers; Emilee Wager, Tara Paige Starling, Andrea Chapman, Becky Witham, Kris Wing and Katie Higbee aren’t given much chance to develop characters as the brides, but they are united in the giggly glee that pervades much of their stage time.

Worthy of particular mention are Jenn Webb as the headstrong Milly. Webb is small and pretty in frame, but energetic and fiery in her performance. She and Erik Christensen, as Adam, both have beautiful singing voices, carrying many of the musical numbers. Also, Justin Martin’s turn as youngest brother Gideon — the only one besides Adam whom the script provides with a personality — is funny and endearing.

The show is fun, fast-paced, sometimes raucous, sometimes sweet, always entertaining. The Hale Center Theater, and Syd Riggs, do it again.

I had never seen this show before -- not the stage version, nor the 1950s film version, which is a very popular, 4-star kind of movie. I was greatly impressed with the weirdness of it. I mean, here we have this guy whose first song is "Bless Your Beautiful Hide," singing about a woman like she's a raccoon. Then he hits on a waitress in town, and she marries him, just like that. Why did he want a wife in the first place? To take care of him and his six slobby brothers. What kind of world did these people inhabit? And then the abductions -- where the six brothers kidnap the objects of their affection and keep them at the farm all winter -- what's up with that? Oh, and of course the six kidnap victims DO fall in love with their captors, and marry them. Is it just me, or is everything so incredibly sexist and backward here? Women fall in love with men merely because they ask them to, they marry them merely because they're supposed to -- it's truly an odd little play.

Not that I didn't enjoy it. Because I certainly did. But really -- what's the deal with this plot?

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