I attended the Dress Rehearsal of Showstopper’s production of “7 Brides for 7 Brothers” at PlayBills theatre on Friday Evening. I learned that this cast and crew had to undergo a little hardship with this production and the rights holder Music Theatre International (MTI). Apparently MTI made some modifications to this show as late as 2007, where a few new songs were added and a few of the bride features numbers were removed, including the “June Bride” song; a decision I am sure many people familiar with this show will view as unfortunate. The cast at PlayBills was unknowingly rehearsing the pre-2007 version of the show and shortly after opening learned from MTI that the version they were performing was not the authorized version. As a result they had to shut down for 1 week and prepare the updated 2007 version which they plan to open with on Saturday August 3.
To retool even one number in a production after having already performed it is no small feat and something that generally only professional productions have to wrestle with, so I respect the huge undertaking this must have been. However, for a final dress rehearsal the amount of stopping to correct issues with lines, dancing, technical issues with incorrectly queued music and prop/costumes had me wondering if a week was a sufficient amount of time to shut down to learn the updated show. There seems to be too many issues that still remain to correct in one or two nights. Their first few performances will more than likely be rough ones. Act I looked great and nearly polished but Act II gave me a chance to see how this cast and director work in a rehearsal setting. This cast has some great leadership and director Jan Williams is definitely sure of what she wants and what needs to be done so she will likely have this show on track in short order.
I have attended all but one production held at PlayBills since their opening in January; this production by far has potential to be their most successful show to date. Several elements stood out, the first was a more elaborate set. PlayBills in an interesting space, the stage is shaped in a fishbowl manner which makes building and maneuvering large sets difficult. I was impressed by how much they were able to fit on the stage creating 6 unique settings, which is enough to make the set functional and it looked very good. The other elements that stood out were the costumes by Rebecca Hunt Cole, Jan Williams and Jamila Holt. They were uniquely color coded to each couple, period correct and sharp.
I feel I need to give special mention to the Choreography by Jan Williams. As I have mentioned PlayBills is a unique space and when I knew I was going to see this show there my first thought was, how in the world are they going to fit that many people into that space and expect them to dance. Williams made great use of the depth of the stage and designed choreography that had dances moving front to back rather than side to side. At no time did the size of the stage appear to be an issue. I found the dancing to be fairly well executed by most of the performers. However two dancers emerged as stand out performers Milly played by DeDe Williams and Daniel played by Phil Etter.
Two other scenes also come to mind as a brilliant use of space, the kidnapping scene moves from one wife-to-be-napping to the next with good flow and in a humorous manner. I have always found the main curtain at PlayBills to be a little awkward, however I loved the way it was used in the avalanche scene. The brothers wagon with the kidnapped wives-to-be are situated upstage behind the curtain and the townsfolk are following them downstage in front of the curtain. Once the brothers clear the pass and allow the women to scream, bringing down the avalanche and forcing to the townsfolk to end their pursuit as they are cut off. This is symbolized by the curtain being lowered and we are left to witness the frustration of the townsfolk, this was a perfect way to stage this scene.
Adam played by Brandon Bills is the male lead in the production. Adam is described as Vigorous, Confident, All-Male, but with a twinkle in his eye. It is the All-Male part of that description that probably inspired Howard Keel’s portrayal of Adam in the 1954 movie as a male chauvinist, with some rather antiquated views on women and how they should be treated. While Bills did a fine job vocally and with his dancing, his version of Adam is far too nice for an All-Male 1850’s Oregon Mountain Man. I really wanted to see a rude and crude man who was barely refined in the end by his wife, his brothers and new born child to someone who might just be tolerable to live with.
Milly played by DeDe Willaims is the female lead. Williams has had obvious training as a dancer and an actor. I enjoyed the way she played this character and enjoyed watching her dance. Vocally I really struggled to hear her over the music and other performers. I believe this is because she was singing at near the bottom of her range where vocal power is hard to muster. During a reprise of one of the numbers in Act II, she did move into the soprano range near the end of the number and it was quite pleasant I wish I could have heard that from her the entire evening.
The Brides did a very nice job in their ensemble numbers, too bad two of them have been cut in the updated version of the show. It almost seems like they should retitle the show to “7 Brothers and the women that we get to see every once in a great while”, instead of giving them equal billing. It really is unfortunate the choices that MTI has made as I would have liked to see a few more numbers where the brides were featured. They deserve to be recognized for their hard work: Dorcas played by Wendy Martin, Martha played by Jessica DeBoer, Ruth played by Jamila Holt, Sarah played by Jessica Grant, Liza played by Jan Williams and Alice played by Mackenzie Turner.
The Brothers did an excellent job in their acting; vocally they have a little work to do. I really enjoyed the acting of all the brothers; Benjamin played by Nathan Cornell, Ephraim played by Dustin Young, Caleb played by Chris Thomas, Frank played by Jeff Hufford, Daniel played by Phil Etter and Gideon played by Jason Sunderland.
This show is double cast in some parts; however I only had the opportunity to observe one cast at this rehearsal so depending on which performance you attend you might see different people in some of the roles that have been mentioned.
Overall this show has a lot of potential and in its current state is still very enjoyable and in my opinion is the best show that has been held at PlayBills to date. This show is family friendly and has a wide appeal; I attended this rehearsal with my wife and 6 year old nephew who both enjoyed the evening.
ShowStoppers’ production of “7 Brides for 7 Brothers” performs August 3-August 17 Monday-Saturday 7:30 pm at PlayBills Theater 455 West 1700 South, Clearfield, UT, 84015. Tickets $10 General Admission. Running Time: Approx. 2 hours, 15 minute intermission.