SUNDANCE, Utah — When seven lonely, backwoods brothers, with a hankerin’ for wives to cook and clean their homestead, read “The Rape of the Sabine Women” for tips on how to court women, monumental disasters in their relationships should follow.
But in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” it’s a reason to break out in song.
“At the beginning, the brothers think it’s OK to go out and grab the women they want,” says Dr. Chris Clark. “I grew up with the notion that ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ was really cute and fun, but that it was sexist and with a misogynistic storyline."
Then he adds, “After looking at it now, I think it’s the opposite. The show is really about men learning about how to respect and treat women. It teaches us that we can’t be selfish; we have to love and respect the people in our lives who we want to love us.”
While far from a handbook to be reviewed for tips on dating etiquette, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” does include one song explaining how a man should behave when “Goin’ Courtin.’ ”
In partnership with Utah Valley University, Clark will direct the stage version of the beloved 1954 MGM movie musical on the Eccles Outdoor Stage at Sundance Resort. The mountains and pine trees surrounding the ski resort will stand in for the rustic woodlands of the Oregon Trail.
“It’s a beautiful show, and the Sundance mountains is the perfect setting for retelling the ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ story,” he quips.
Following the “sheer popularity of the movie,” a stage adaptation was hastily assembled in 1978 with the film’s stars, Howard Keel and Jane Powell, to take on a limited tour. But the effort was “presumably as a form of pension scheme,” one theater wag observed.
A different version opened in New York in 1982, but it was a Broadway bomb. While not a record — Donny Osmond’s “Little Johnny Jones” opened and closed on a single night the same year in New York — “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” with Debby Boone as the headliner, only had a five-performance run.
Boone, who achieved pop-chart fame with “You Light Up My Life” but had no previous acting experience, “couldn’t ‘light up’ the Broadway version,” Clark says.
The show was later extensively retooled, and a number of new musical compositions have been written, considered and then discarded, before inserting the final eight additional songs to the theater script. They join the film's sprightly score, by Gene de Paul and Oscar-winners Johnny Mercer and Saul Chaplin, that includes the treasured songs “Bless Yer Beautiful Hide," "Wonderful, Wonderful Day" and “Spring, Spring, Spring.” Another Mercer-de Paul song, “Sobbin' Women,” was written with the brothers’ mispronunciation of “Sabine Women” in mind (and “sobbin’ ” is then rhymed with “throbbin’ ”).
Playing the lead roles of Millie and Adam Pontipee, made iconic by the performances of Powell and Keel, will be local favorites Jenny Latimer and Kevin K. Goertzen. Along with acting credits at Tuacahn Amphitheatre, Hale Center Theater Orem and other venues, Latimer and Goertzen acted together as Marguerite and Percy in the Hale Centre Theatre production of “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”
“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” will serve as a homecoming of sorts for the actors. Goertzen returns to Utah after studying for a law degree at Stetson University College of Law in Tampa Bay, Fla., and Latimer played Cosette in Cameron Mackintosh's heralded 25th anniversary national tour of “Les Miserables,” which included a stop at Salt Lake City's Capitol Theatre.
Working with these experienced musical theater actors “certainly raises the bar and brings a level of professionalism that I was hoping for,” Clark says. “They bring in such great talent but they are also such great, hard workers, and this is also influencing the other cast members.”
Another key component of the success Clark anticipates for “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is the show’s professional-level choreography. Dances for the Sundance show are being staged by another Utah native, Nathan Balser, whose on-Broadway performance credits include “Legally Blonde,” “9 to 5: the Musical” and “Promises, Promises.”
“Audiences really will be impressed with the dancing and showmanship of Nathan’s choreography,” Clark says.
Like Latimer and Goertzen, Balser has recently returned to Utah and will join the dance faculty at Brigham Young University in the fall. He has previously choreographed “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” but a production of the musical he performed in holds special significance because it resulted in a real-life wedding: his own. While Balser was playing the role of a brother at Tuacahn, he met an actress playing a bride — and she became his bride the following year.
If you go
What: “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”Comment on this story
Where: Sundance Resort Eccles Outdoor Stage
When: July 23-Aug. 18 at 8 p.m.
How much: $23-$20
Tickets: 877-831-6224 or sundanceresort.com