|Thosee lonesome polecats, from l: Jacob Lacopo, Sam Hay, Keegan Rice, Justin Ronald Mock, Zachary Gray and CH Palikowski.|
By Dan Hagen
The battle of the sexes takes a somewhat literal turn in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the second show of the Little Theatre’s 2012 summer season. I was struck, in this production, by how relentlessly this musical focuses on gender relations, a rather politically incorrect parade of gingham girls and lion-hearted men.
|Sophie Grimm (right):|
Superbly controlled, naturalistic acting
Almost all musical comedies are a pas de deux of boy meets girl, but the emphasis is more primal in this show, a kind of tribal dance ritual.
Like hoot owls and polecats, the people here need not know their potential mates at all, and barely even meet them. A moment of mutual attraction is enough to seal the deal to the satisfaction of all concerned, to strike up the band for the wedding dance.
And yes, while the songs are serviceable enough, this is a dance musical, and has been since its inception as a 1954 film with celebrated masculine-themed choreography by Michael Kidd.
This production, directed and choreographed by Kelly Shook, is equally kinetic, and may well turn out to be the Little’s most engaging show of the summer.
Dance captain Sam Hay should share the credit for the pleasantly sweet swiftness with which this evening at the theatre passes. The brothers — Hay himself, CJ Pawlikowski, Justin Ronald Mock, Keegan Rice, Zachary Gray and Jacob Lacopo — stomp and spring their way through several numbers, dueling in dance, jumping over ax handles and, in Lacopo’s case, performing one incredible back flip. The Olympic choreography is as masculine as this kind of thing gets.
The story starts one day in 1850 when the eldest backwoods brother, Adam (Sean Zimmerman), goes to town to pick up supplies and a wife, pretty much in that order. Zimmerman’s voice is clear and thrilling, and his forthright manner instantly wins restaurant drudge and sunny survivor Milly (Sophie Grimm).
Here, as she did as Rizzo in Grease, the Equity actress Grimm uses her superbly controlled, naturalistic acting ability to lend even preposterous proceedings some emotional reality. My friend Jay Sain suggested that her singing voice and vocal styling reminded him a little of Rosemary Clooney, and I agree.
The best of several good numbers in the show is probably Grimm’s Goin’ Courtin’, which radiates both humor and energy as she teaches the charming brutes of brothers some fundamentals about the fair sex.
The most benighted of Midwesterners must feel like a sophisticate compared to these boys, and that gives the show a classier version of the kind of kick you might get from watching The Beverly Hillbillies.
Although their stage time is limited, the actors invest each brother with personality, particularly the amusingly stolid Benjamin (Pawlikowski) and the most misanthropic of this misanthropic lot, Frankincense (Gray). Gray also shines with his brothers in the sweetly muted, ax-punctuated moan of loneliness, “Lonesome Polecat.”
The youngest brother, Gideon (Lacopo), projects an appealing innocence that rings true, and that’s a real trick, given the fact that innocence so often comes off as sappy on stage.
He and Milly sense the stirrings of something more than primal urges and believe themselves to be in love with their chosen mates, a notion that Adam treats with the skepticism of a man who knows only nature’s rhythms. There’s no one girl, he tells Gideon. There are lots of girls. The three of them argue the point — true love or a string of lovers? — in the song Love Never Goes Away, a number that satisfyingly supplies no pat answers for the audience.
Anyway, the boys kidnap the objects of their desire (a lavishly lissome lot that includes Kelsey Andres, Ashley Klinger, Mandy Modic, Tiffany Sparks, Rachel LaPorte and Jennifer Seifter). By the way, I appreciate the fact that costumer Beth Ashby has color-coded the couples for us in bright, appealing outfits that match.
The mass kidnapping leads to complications that anybody but these bounding backwoodsmen could have predicted, but all is resolved with a shotgun Wedding Dance that probably expends enough energy, in each performance, to light up Moultrie County for a night or two.
Incidental Intelligence: This show has book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay and music by Johnny Mercer, Gene De Paul, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschorn. The cast also features Jack Scott, Glory Kissel, Marty Harbaugh, Connie Mulligan, John Tilford, Ashlyn Bennett, Abbi Kepp, Darrin French, Cary Mitchell, Jared Titus, Tony Edgerton, Lincoln Ward and Loren J. Connell.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers has scene design by Jen Price-Fick, lighting design by Kimberly Klearman and stage management by Jane Davis. The music director is Joshua Zecher-Ross,
Performances will run today through July 1 with tickets ranging from $37.50 for adults and $35.40 for children under 12 and seniors 62 and over. Tickets may be purchased by calling The Little Theatre on the Square Box Office at (217)-728-7375 or online at thelittletheatre.org.