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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers' Live

A highlight of a recent trip, which showed that you can go home again, to the Southern Maine coastal town of Ogunquit included both an exceptional (to-be-reviewed August 24, 2016) stay at the Moon Over Maine bed-and-breakfast and the equally enjoyable live performance of the 62 year-old musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" at the 84 year-old Ogunquit Playhouse. The appeal of production includes Broadway actors performing in a nostalgic summer stock setting.

The amazing history of the Playhouse includes beginning Depression-era life in a converted garage before transitioning to its large current home with a theater space that lacks any bad seats. Further, attracting the right leadership is allowing the Playhouse to thrive when many other live-stage spaces scrape by or close up.

Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney chooses wisely in selecting "Brides." Fond memories of the 1954 Howard Keel/Jane Powell film and the '70s Richard Dean Anderson (the Adam Pontipe with the one "e" is the one with no sense of humor) television series help make the current production appeal to both the significant number of gay men who love the Playhouse and the over-50 straight crowd who are the second largest segment of that population. The dreamy siblings spending the show in tight pants (and sometimes less) further attracts the not-so-silent majority among the patrons.

"Brides" runs through October 1, 2016 to make way for the rockin' production "Million Dollar Quartet." That '50stacular production centers around an actual recording session with Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash. The troupe then moves across the river to the equally spectacular Music Hall theater in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to give parents who are tired of "A Christmas Carol" and "The Nutcracker" the option of taking their little ones to see "Beauty and the Beast."

The following YouTube clip of a promo for the Playhouse "Brides" production provides a tasty tease of rousing fun and humor of this show.

Seeing the elaborate forest set before the show begins is the first indication that "Brides" is far more professional than a production featuring college kids fresh off starring roles in their school production of "Into the Woods."

Big burly hunk (and Ogunquit virgin) Nathaniel Hackmann lumbering onto the stage in his Lewis and Clark style backwoods garb and soon breaking into song completely validates that first impression, Hackmann, whose Broadway cred includes roles in "Les Miserables" and "Paint Your Wagon," mightily projects whether speaking or singing and shows that he possesses the wide vocal range that the "Brides" tunes require. These songs seem to go from the deepest bass to the highest tenor.

Casting shorter and (still hunky and talented) less muscular actors as the brothers further establishes the hierarchy on the stage. Hackmann clearly is the Greg to the Peters and the Bobbys in the show.

Hackmann plays eldest titular brother Adam Pontipee; his opening scenes chores during a rare trip to the town below the isolated wilderness paradise that he and his six siblings share includes finding one of the titular spouses. His limited time and common sense logic convince him to locate and wed a wife in roughly 30 minutes.

Adam soon finding feisty and tough waitress Milly is good luck for him; the extent to which it is good luck for her requires watching the play.

Broadway veteran Analisa Leaming joins Hackmann in making her Playhouse debut in her role as Milly. The extraordinary stage presence of her leading man hinders properly assessing Leaming in the role. She has a good voice and is believable in her role but lacks the Annie Oakley or Molly Brown presence for which one hopes.

Prolific Broadway actor (and another Playhouse newbie) Colin Bradbury steals the show in an early scene in which Milly arrives at her new home and soon finds that she is more Snow White than Molly Brown. Bradbury plays third brother Caleb and gets huge laughs on nonchalantly appearing in a tree and stoically greeting his completely unanticipated new sister-in-law. He follows this up with making the most of the line "not close, here" when a flustered Milly looks up at Caleb and asks if he lives close by.

A personal vote for second favorite brother goes to Justin Schuman as youngest brother Gideon. This future Broadway star brings very apt sweetness and goofiness to the role. Bias toward him relates to seeing his performance coinciding with watching DVD episodes of the '90s Must-See NBC sitcom "Caroline in the City" featuring constantly rollerblading and hilariously dim-witted young courier/sidekick Charlie. Schumann, who is a shoo-in for Charlie if anyone stages "Caroline! The Musical," further particularly shines in pursuing his chosen bride.

All six younger brothers get their moment to shine on teasing Adam just before he heads up to his Honeymoon Suite on his wedding night; the excitable boys follow this up with an adorable reaction to an indication that Adam and Milly have consummated their union.

The first act largely focuses on integrating Milly into the family and her trying to tame her rowdy new in-laws. A highlight of this is Milly first getting the bros currently without hos to strip down to blankets around their waists and then trying to teach them the related arts of etiquette, courting, and dancing. A spoiler is that there is at least one wardrobe malfunction.

Act One ends in true musical style with the rousing well-known "The Music Man" esque number "Sobbin' Women," which also is the title of the short story on which "Brides" is based. This performance centers around Adam inciting his siblings to go into town and follow his lead by dragging their intended wives back to the cabin.

Act Two opens with a hilariously Looney Tunes style (accompanied by apt music) segment in which Adam and the boys sneak around snatching up their brides under the not-so-watchful eyes of the suitors and the parents of these females. This is slapstick at its best. A (later repeated) cat imitation is a highlight of this wackiness.

The ensuing marital discord drives much of the action for the remainder of the play. A highlight of this portion is an actual ballet by the gang of six and their counterparts during the "Spring Dance" number.

The humor, love, and music that abound in the final scenes will have you leaving the theater with a smile.

Anyone with questions regarding "Brides"or the Playhouse is encouraged to either contact those good folks in Ogunquit or to email me. You can also reach out on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.