What is theater? In particular regional musical theater? It is meat to be a diversion from everyday reality and an entertainment experience that will allow one to leave the theater with a warm feeling! This is what we get at Drury Lane Oakbrook every time we see a show- a warm feeling, a chance to laugh and to watch marvelous talented actors take the stage and bring us old and new musicals, some old favorites and some that no one remembers at all. Their current production, “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” based on the film of the same name, which was based on the novel “The Sobbin’ Women” by Stephen Vincent Benet , was unsuccessful on Broadway and if memory serves me right, never even did a road company to the major cities of the United States. It was done several times in regional theaters and served best as a showcase for some of our local talent ( the same was true in St. Louis, Cleveland, Minneapolis etc)- nothing special, just another musical!
Well, I am here to tell you that there was a rebirth of this musical. New songs, new words, a better look at some of the characters and while it still has no hummable songs or great memories, the slick production on stage now at Drury Lane Oakbrook is really well done. Director Bill Jenkins ( a guest director) and choreographer Tammy Mader ( who has done probably the best job ever!) have made silk out of a sows ear. Roberta Duchak’s music direction was the icing on the cake and the cast of young actors who can sing and dance up a storm bring some great energy to this special evening.
Set in Oregon ( who ever heard of a musical taking place in Oregon?), in 1850, “Seven Brides” tells the story of Adam Pontipee ( a strong performance by Steve Blanchard), who comes from the mountains to find himself a bride. When he meets Millie ( the divine Abby Mueller) and convinces her to marry him, never telling him that she will not only be his wife, but will be his housekeeper, cook and cleaning lady, and oh, by the way, he has six brothers that share his home and his life!. Milly decides that if she is going to have a life with Adam she will have to clean up his brothers and teach them the ways of the world including “courting” the young ladies. When they all attend the town social, the brothers all find girls they like and under Adams’ leadership, they kidnap them and bring them back to their mountaintop home, to wed. Problem! They forgot to bring the preacher, so no fooling around. Adam leaves and while he is gone thinking, the girls and brothers relationships start to grow and of course, we all know a happy ending is looming in the second act and of course the finale is peaches and cream or apple pie and vanilla ice cream- perfect harmony and happiness. Yeah!
Nothing is notable about the script or the music, but this cast makes the music special and from the opening number into Adam’s “Bless Your Beautiful Hide” we know that we are in for a sweet journey of a love story. Remember, musical theater is a diversion and while watching this love story , I doubt anyone in the opening night audience was concerned about did they put the mail on the shelf, or did they leave the milk out- they were tapping their toes to the beat and watching some great dancing ( Tammy Mader has truly matured as a choreographer). The entire cast is strong, ensemble and leads and two of Chicago’s favorite character actors, Renee Matthews and Don Forston, in their smaller roles prove that there are no small parts, only small actors as they make the most out if each line and movement they have. They are solid and I am sure help the younger performers to see just how important every character is in the totality of a production.
The ensemble is very strong Richard Strimmer, Jarret Ditch, William Travis Taylor,Chrs Yonana, Brandon Springman, Zach Zube ( in a breakout role for him as Gideon, the youngest of the brothers.),Vanessa Panerosa, Cara Salerno, Amber Mark,Hallie Cercone, Amanda Kroiss, Katie Huff,Jackson Evans, Loren Connell,Sean Michael Hunt,Matthew Crowle,Kyle Donahue,Wesley Dean Tucker,Karl Hamilton,Dan Collins,Andrea Prestinario,Joyee Lin and Jristy Luehm Hronick- all marvelous and high in energy. The dance numbers were great and while this is a “good ole” type play, where we expect hoedown and reel music/dancing, Mader brought in a touch of ballet in a special sequence that will astound you.
Kevin Depinet’s set is magic on its own, as it is the town, a barn and the house with just the slightest of changes and the backdrop of the mountains and the trees is a picture of beauty, which helps to frame the love story that we are watching. For a production to be complete, it takes more than just a director,choreographer,musical director, actors, singers, dancers and set designer. The lighting (Jesse Klug), sound ( Ray Nardelli),Costumes ( Kathryn Rohe), props ( Joel Lambie) and wigs ( an important part of a period play-Kaity Licina) and in this case, fight choreographer ( John Tovar) made the production complete. A very impressive production from a not so special script or score. Hats off to the Desantis family for putting the heart and soul of their people into making a so-so play into a wonderful evening of entertainment.
“Brides” will continue its run at Drury Lane Oakbrook through December 19th with performances as follows:
Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
Thursday at 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Friday at 8:30 p.m.
Saturday at 5 and 8:30 p.m.
Sunday at 2 and 6 p.m.
Tickets range from $31-$45 ( a bargain for theater/entertainment of this quality) and for just a few dollars more you can partake of a meal the likes of which you would never expect at a regional theater. They range from $45.75- $68 ( do the math, a full meal for as low as $14.75)
To order tickets or make reservations for lunch/dinner call the box office at 630-530-0111, or Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000 or visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com
Drury Lane is located just North of Cermak Rd off Spring Drive and has plenty of free parking. Seniors, you can save even more. Drury Lane has a large subscription base ( and it keeps increasing) and it sure appears that the plays they select are perfect for the patrons that have selected them. This is good for the theater and great for the audience.