‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ at The Firehouse Theatre is not your grandfather’s musical
Read More: Aiden Orr, Alexandra Bern, Breezy Potter, Connor Scully, Corrie Maclean, Dixon Cashwell, Elliot Duffy, Eve Marie Tuck, Jahred King, Jenna Kraynak, Jessie Kraemer, John Quarstein, Levi Meerovich, Madison Hatfield, Mahlon Raoufi, Maudeleora Kaufman, Max Ehrlich, Megan Mock, Nu Pupis, Patrick Bello, Rachel Lamb, Ryan Lee
When M-G-M produced the original Hollywood musical film, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in 1954, the grandparents of the team responsible for the current stage adaptation presented by Nu Pupis at The Firehouse Theatre were only children.
The movie is a classic and was directed by Stanley Donen (who often co-directed with Gene Kelly) and was choreographed by Michael Kidd. It is a superior dance film. The barn raising scene is one of the best choreographed numbers in film history.
Being the 50’s, the movie is a little stogy and old fashioned.
How does a 62-year-old musical hold up in 2016? Pretty well. Timeless entertainment is for the ages.
The movie was re-imagined as a stage musical in 1978 with new songs.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was based on A Stephen Vincent Benet story The Sobbin’ Women, which in turn was based upon a fable out of Plutarch, The Rape of the Sabine Women.”
Adam and his six brothers live isolated up in the Oregon Mountains. Adam, (looking more than a little like Wolverine with facial hair and over developed musculature) goes into town to find a wife before day’s end. Millie just happens to be won over. Adam fails to mention his brothers. Millie walks into a wolf pack of unrefined mountain men. She turns them halfway respectable just in time for them to decide they all need wives. Like the men in the Sobbin Women, they kidnap the pretty townswomen and then cause an avalanche on the Oregon Trail so their kinfolk can’t get through until spring.
What happens when all are trapped is the heart and beauty of the script.
Nu Pupis is the name of this theatrical group, made up mostly of Theatre VCU students. Pupis is Latin for an insect in its developmental stage between a larva and an adult. Nu means either “new,” the name for the letter of the Greek alphabet Ν, a measure of constringence in lenses or prisms, or a Yiddish word for surprise, exclamation or doubt.
While I’m sure they have their own idea, for me Nu Pupis means “OY VEY, A BUG!”
Nu Pupis says in its descriptive literature that they are “a new performing arts collective that hopes to cultivate the kind of culture necessary for LIFE IN SPACE via performance on earth.” OY VEY, A BUG!
I’m not sure what kind of theatre will be popular in deep space, but Nu Pupis obviously believes that the Uranus Dinner Theatre of the Stars will feature Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
Nu Pupis is made up of talented, creative 20-year-olds. They have reimagined Seven Brides for Seven Brothers to speak to them and the sensibilities of their generation. Irreverent, sexual, defiant, lude, black, frantic, energetic, fragmented, extemporaneous and messy.
The concept and approach are refreshingly delightful. The structure stays the same, the story has not changed. The songs are beautiful. The new songs expand and play off the story line and are welcomed since there is much less dancing.
What is different is the approach to the characters the young performers take. Almost no reverence for the simple story is preserved. All aspects are embellished, mocked, stretched to the limits and broadened very wide indeed.
This is not a clown show. Though M-G-M wouldn’t recognize this version of the musical, this is not the Eisenhower Administration either. Somehow this fresh approach to an old tale makes something Nu indeed.
There is a cast of about 20 actors. 7 Brothers and 7 Brides (one with special needs) and 6 townspeople.
The ensemble consists of Patrick Bello, Alexandra Bern, Dixon Cashwell, Elliot Duffy, Max Ehrlich, Madison Hatfield, Maudeleora Kaufman, Jahred King, Jessie Kraemer, Jenna Kraynak, Rachel Lamb, Ryan Lee, Corrie Maclean, Levi Meerovich, Megan Mock, Aiden Orr, Breezy Potter, Mahlon Raoufi, Eve Marie Tuck and John Quarstein.
As a “collective/cast” the evening comes off fairly well with a caveat. The exuberance is what the whole exercise seems to be about.
The singing had rough moments, the dancing had rough moments, and the acting had rough moments. It seemed to me that the cast was very nonchalant about the imprecision of their craft. It was almost as if the tone forwarded was “we are carefree, we are free form, we are here for fun and not particularly to hit the high “A” cleanly,” as if they were used to performing this show at their school for their peers and not for a paying audience.
The director is Connor Scully. Mr. Scully either intended the result we see or he has work to do to find balance and consistency. The choreographer Carmen Wiley smartly designs some spirited but basic footwork for her ensemble to accomplish. The Musical Director, Levi Meerovich, needed to keep his ensemble tighter (and on key) and his soloists more dedicated to the score. Ben Escobar accompanied the cast on the piano with gusto.
Several actors made choices that were clean and steady and, as a result, much funnier. Standouts included Millie (Jenna Kraynak) , Frank (Mahlon Raoufi) and the preacher man (Dixon Cashwell). All made bold and very funny choices that worked and they carried them throughout.
The rest of the cast should follow suit. The show is funny and it works. It can be much better. Satire is the hardest form of comedy and it seems that’s the slant. Satire is difficult because it must be clean. It must be precise. I say “Monty Python.” No better example.
End songs together, hit your notes, work on precision in dance, dial down the blood, keep your clothes on but keep the energy and fun where it’s at. The people of Uranus will thank you.
It more largely illuminates how hard it can be to forge both a satisfying career and a fulfilling personal life in an era that seems to demand superhuman achievement from everyone.September 19, 2016
- Jewish Family Theatre lets teenagers loose in the French Revolution musical ‘Les Miserables’ (School Edition), August 24, 2016
- Firehouse theatre brings ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ to RVA, uncouth plot line and all, July 11, 2016
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