MPA closes season on strong note in 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers'

August 23, 2010 

  • 'Seven Brides For Seven Brothers'

    Rating: ***
    Where: Paul Tischer Theater, Modesto High School, First and H streets
    When: 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 5
    Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission
    Tickets: $23 adults, $22 seniors and $14 youth
    Information: 524-9777 between noon and 4 p.m. weekdays or www.modestoperformingarts.com


    **** Excellent
    *** Good
    ** Fair
    * Poor

"Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" imagines what the Old West would have been like if everybody spent most of their time dancing.

The 1954 musical, now being presented by Modesto Performing Arts at Modesto High School, is filled with swirling skirts, balletlike lifts and acrobatic moves.

Choreographer Debbie Holtzclaw provides plenty of opportunities to marvel at the dancers' skills and laugh at the comic moments she inserts here and there.

While the show's dated battle-of-the-sexes story can be grating, the lively energy of the young performers is infectious and makes you want to tap your toes.

Written by Lawrence Kasha, David Landay (book), Johnny Mercer (lyrics) and Gene De Paul (music), the musical takes place in the 1850s Oregon wilderness where the seven Pontipee brothers live alone, miles from town, up on a mountain.

After oldest brother Adam marries waitress Millie, the other brothers decide they want wives, too. Inspired by the ancient Roman legend "The Rape of the Sabine Women," they go into town and kidnap some pretty women.

Of course, since this is a 1950s musical, it's not as bad as it sounds, and the women soon fall in love with their abductors.

The sets and backdrops, created by director Paul Tischer and Noble Dinse, are stunning and include snow-capped peaks, rolling green hills, towering evergreen trees and a two-story mountain home.

Daniel Simons transforms from arrogant and gruff to sweet and accommodating as Adam. It's hard sometimes to take his sexist comments about a woman's place and her lack of value, but at least the character eventually comes to see the error of his ways.

Nancy O'Bryan is strong but loving as his wife Millie, who takes it upon herself to civilize the wild Pontipee men.

Simons and O'Bryan do most of the show's vocal heavy lifting and sound wonderful alone and together. O'Bryan's rendition of the romantic "Wonderful Wonderful Day" is one of the finest moments of the musical.

Justin Tate, Justin Dale Roe, Adam Serpa, Evan Rhodes, Alexander Del Curto and Ryan Fikejs are hilarious as Adam's rowdy younger brothers. They're so sweet, you can't help but love them even though they constantly get in fights with each other or whoever happens to be around.

However, they sometimes don't enunciate their words, making it hard to understand the spoken dialogue and song lyrics.

Chelsea Ozbirn, Jeni Baker, Shelby Hughes, Katy Uyeno, Marissa Lee and Yelizaveta Gyeryen display both grace and spunk as the kidnapped brides. They never seem like victims -- more like accomplished flirts.

Collin Riley Lourenco's costumes would fit in perfectly on the set of "Little House on the Prairie" with the women in hair ribbons and long, ruffled dresses and the men in knee-length boots, slacks and plaid shirts.

Under Darrell Lingenfelter's direction, the orchestra sounds crisp and clean.

It's great to see Modesto Performing Arts close out its 43rd summer season on such a strong note.

Bee staff writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be contacted at lrenner@modbee.com or 578-2313.

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