Earlier this year, Jeremy Stolle petitioned for a two-week break from his job playing Passarino in Broadway’s “The Phantom of the Opera.”
He had a short-term gig he needed to attend to in Wichita.
So Stolle – who also understudies the Phantom, Raoul and Piangi – flew to Wichita with fellow Broadway veteran Catherine Charlebois (“Wicked”) to learn an entirely new show, open and close it in a matter of two weeks.
And what a treat for Wichita audiences, as Stolle and Charlebois elevate an already-impressive ensemble cast in Music Theatre Wichita’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” to astounding heights.
It’s surely the finest iteration of the musical MTW has yet put on – and it’s now done so thrice (once in 1993 and again in 2006).
Though Stolle and Charlebois hold this wide-ranging musical together, its success is ultimately determined by its ensemble.
And on that front, “Seven Brides” does not disappoint.
The show, based loosely on Stephen Vincent Benet’s “The Sobbin’ Women,” is about a family of seven wild and unruly brothers in backwoods 1850s Oregon – the oldest of whom decides he needs a wife to cook and clean for him. Throughout the course of the musical, Milly tames the six brothers, who eventually set out to get wives of their own – albeit in a nefarious way.
The six brothers and six wives truly shine during group dance numbers, such as the musical’s famous Social Dance and Spring Dance scenes. It’s especially impressive, considering how those lithe, agile dancers are, for the most part, still in college.
Charlebois, last seen here as Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” adroitly adapts to her role as the sharp, witty Milly, and is a delight to watch.
Technically, this is a new “Seven Brides,” as the musical underwent a significant rewrite in 2007. That rewrite resulted in the addition of several songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, including “Love Never Goes Away,” “Where Were You?” and “We Gotta Make It Through the Winter” – and it’s clear which songs are more modern than the original 1982 musical.
The new songs are better-suited to showcase this cast’s significant vocal abilities – for example, Stolle’s angsty “Where Were You?” at the beginning of Act 2 was a show-stopping moment. The older, more sing-songey “Seven Brides” repertoire ( “Bless Your Beautiful Hide,” “Goin’ Courtin’”) was not as enjoyable as the new material.
The scenery throughout the show – which was all created in Century II’s scene shop – is downright gorgeous. The painted trees and forest backdrops truly set a delightful mood for the musical.
So in the end, who was the star?
Some would say Charlebois, others Stolle, others the seven brothers.
I’d say it was Peggy Hickey and John Todd, the choreographers of this show.
Hickey, whose choreography is currently on display in Broadway’s “Anastasia,” designed a rollicking good time from a dance perspective. The most enthralling moments of the musical are due to her exciting choreography – and this talented cast’s ability to execute it to near-perfection.
‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’
What: One of Music Theatre Wichita’s most-requested shows, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is a high-energy musical based on the 1954 film of the same name – the second show of MTW’s 2017 season.
Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas
When: 7:30 p.m. Thu., 8 p.m. Fri., 2 and 8 p.m. Sat. and 2 and 7 p.m. Sun.