Patti Colombo's spirited and acrobatic choreography in 5th Avenue Theatre's new production of the classic 1954 Hollywood musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" made me sing, "Bless your beautiful hide, Patti!" The dancing was so exiting that I almost wanted to dance myself (although I'd have a few problems with the balletic and acrobatic movements). To describe the dancing, think Mikhail Baryshnikov for pure strength and control. The signature dance of the show, at a barn-raising in the movie but at a Harvest Social in this production, was phenomenal. The onstage dancers had to hold their poses for three minutes while the audience applauded.
While everyone is probably familiar with the story, it goes like this: Adam (Edward Watts), the eldest of seven brothers, goes from his Oregon Territory home to the closest town to find a bride. Strong, resourceful and beautiful Milly (Laura Griffith) assents to be his wife at the first asking. They get married and travel back to his home, which she romantically thinks will be a cozy home with just her and her new husband. However, Adam neglects to tell her that he raised his six brothers after their parents' deaths and they're all still living there.
The boys, young men actually, seeing Adam's success, want wives, too. Millie has her work cut out for her, making these rowdy, untamed louts acceptable. She works on it, hard. They all go out to the Harvest Social where the slightly tamed men meet town girls. This is where the most exciting dance took place at the Harvest Festival. Those men were so strong that they were grasping the girls' waists and lifting them up over their heads for the man behind to catch. It was like watching the iron rings competition at the Olympics.
Two of the brothers were outstanding dancers, even in this exalted company. Whenever Daniel (Karl Warden) and Benjamin (Luke Longacre) were dancing, you couldn't see anything else on the stage. In fact, Warden is the assistant choreographer and dance captain for the play, and was a competitive diver before taking up dancing.
This is not to say that the women performers were slouches in the dance department. They could keep up and stay charming and "fresh" at the same time.
The characters' personalities came through, even in the group scenes. Outstanding to me were Meaghan Foy as sweet Alice, partnered with Gideon (Mo Brady), the youngest brother; Amanda Paulson as flirty Dorcas; and Brittany Jamieson as shy Ruth.
The music was wonderful. Thank you, Johnny Mercer and Gene De Paul, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn.
Anna Louizos' sets were magic. The initial set was layers and layers of cool, blue-green trees. The cabin in the woods was a back wall with a truss and fireplace to represent the indoors. The change from the filthy home pre-Milly to the much happier home post-Milly was great.
Allison Narver as director had a lot to work with: great singers and dancers and set designer and lighting and costumes. But, nevertheless, she had to pull it all together and she did. It was great fun.
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" runs through Dec. 28, a perfect Christmas gift for a beloved relative or good friend. For tickets ($22-$81) and information, call the box office at (888) 584-4849 or online at www.5thavenue.org. Go see it!