Strong, likable performances, stunning choreography and beautiful singing make Tuacahn’s production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” a winner. The show benefits tremendously from the large outdoor stage of Tuacahn. A big stage just means more room for dancing — and dancing is what makes or breaks any production of “Seven Brides.”
The barn-raising scene, in which the eponymous brothers basically win the hearts of the women by dancing better than their previous suitors (it sort of makes sense in the show) is astoundingly well-choreographed by Melinda Larson. Men roll on barrels and jump over axes, and rare is the moment that someone is not airborne for one reason or another. It’s an incredible, dynamic scene.
Dianna Lynne Errico stands out as Millie, the headstrong gal who is tricked into marrying a mountain man just so she can cook and clean for him and his piggish brothers — and then accidentally falls in love with the guy after all. Errico has a gorgeous, clear voice that would melt butter, if the St. George heat didn’t melt everything already. The audience is behind her immediately, and her charisma and commanding stage presence could carry the show if it had to.
But it doesn’t have to, because she’s backed up by a cast thick with talent. Keith Weirich is strong as Adam, Millie’s husband. His voice is powerful, and there is substance and sympathy behind his oafish demeanor. We find his views on women to be unbelievably out-dated and stupid, but we don’t hate him — we pity him, and we’re glad when he sees the light at the end.
In other productions, this show often comes across as hopelessly sexist, particularly when Adam’s brothers kidnap the women they want and the hostages fall in love with their captors. But here, director Tim Threlfall has pulled such likable performances from his cast that this development doesn’t seem too outrageous. The brothers are so endearing in their earnest attempts to act like gentlemen that we can overlook the kidnappings as well-intentioned but wrong, rather than felonious and imbecilic.
Bill Surber, Nathan Balser, Matthew Herrick, James Mack and Jake Fry play the six brothers with gusto; the “Goin’ Courtin'” scene, when Millie teaches them how to behave around ladies, is abundantly charming. In that scene and others, the diminutive Fry, as youngest brother Gideon, uses a fine singing voice and soft-spoken demeanor to embody what the rest of the brothers one day hope to be: sensitive gentlemen who know how to treat a lady.
I was surprised at how anti-sexist this show ultimately seemed. Adam's sexism is astounding in its breadth and depth, but not once are we expected to agree with him. In fact, he comes across as an absolute idiot, and by the end, he has changed.
As for the six girls falling in love with their kidnappers, the strong performances in this production made me almost believe it. That alone surprised me, for I was all set to be amazed at the lunacy of it all, but instead I bought it. Maybe I was sleepy.
(This was published with the two separate reviews of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" at Tuacahn for the benefit of people who could not see both. Tuacahn is near St. George, about four hours south of Provo, and while many people would like to see something in the magnificent amphitheater, it is not always feasible to see both shows. Ordinarily, of course, comparing two shows like this would be unfair. We felt that in this case, it would provide a valuable service for potential theater-goers.)
Both productions are well done, so try to see them both. But if the distance or cost limits you to just one, here's some guidance on which to choose.
Overall, "Seven Brides" is a better production. "Joseph" tries too hard to impress us with how big it is, while "Seven Brides" is more honest, straight-forward and consistent. "Joseph" wants to dazzle; "Seven Brides" wants to entertain.
That said, "Joseph" generally DOES dazzle. If you've got kids in tow, "Joseph" is definitely the show for you. It's shorter than "Seven Brides," and has more candy for the eyes and ears (unless your kids are impressed with great dancing, which "Seven Brides" is chock-full of).
If you've never seen "Joseph," this is not a good one to start with. It seems determined to stand apart from other productions, but if you've never seen other productions, this one may seem disjointed and non-cohesive, like a series of unrelated skits and songs strung together with a narrator.
If you have seen "Joseph" before, this one compares favorably in terms of sheer talent. The cast is wonderful, and a live orchestra is used (increasingly rare for this show). You've probably seen productions that are funnier, but this one wins points for its size and spectacle. It is fun to see this and compare it to other "Josephs," and especially to note all the new bits that have been added. If you've never seen "Joseph," the new stuff will just seem out of place with the rest of the show.
If you've seen both shows a few times (seeing the "Seven Brides" movie counts), or if you're the type of person who goes to the theater a lot, "Seven Brides" is the better choice. Both shows indulge in some "we're doing this just because we can" staging, but there's far less of that sort of gimmickry in "Seven Brides."