That’s amore

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  June 5, 2007

Who knew there was so much Ritalin for the taking in the Oregon Territory? Or that it reacted so well with testosterone? The athletic revival of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers that has set down at North Shore Music Theatre (through June 17) makes you wonder why the 1982 stage musical based on the 1954 film lasted only five performances on Broadway. This co-production with Houston Under the Stars and Paper Mill Playhouse has been restaged for the NSMT arena, with set designer Anna Louizos’s imposing fabric tree trunks capable of being retracted till they look like wrinkled elephant’s feet peeping through the flies, so there’s plenty of room for Patti Colombo’s muscular choreography. No one gets kicked in the head by a pony, but a whack in the noggin would hardly interfere with one’s ability to romp through — or comprehend — this cornpone-and-calico-dripping tale of seven uncouth orphan brothers, in stature the opposite of the dwarfs, who read a little Plutarch, then skedaddle out to kidnap them some wives.

Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn supply one pretty ballad, “Love Never Goes Away,” but the best songs, lifted straight from the film, are by Johnny Mercer and Gene de Paul. These include the ecstatic “Wonderful, Wonderful Day,” the languorous “Lonesome Polecat,” and “Sobbin’ Women,” the twangy transposition of the rape of the Sabine women that gets the roughhousing Pontipee boys pumped up to do as the Romans did.

Director Scott Schwartz provides plenty of backwoods drollery to go along with the script, and the cast is in fine voice — particularly Edward Watts as eldest brother Adam. With his rugged good looks and unstrained baritone, this leading man harks back to the age of the film, though he calls to mind less Howard Keel than John Raitt. But running neck and neck with the big cute guy in Davy Crockett’s jacket is the choreography as star of the show. New York City Ballet principal Jacques d’Amboise was among the brothers of the movie, which was magnificently choreographed by Michael Kidd. Following in those big footsteps, the spirited NSMT cast — the guys doing gymnastic flips, the girls being tossed like graceful gunny sacks — takes the terpsichorean vocabulary of the hoedown and turns it into something fit for swans.

Director Benjamin Evett’s concept for Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (Downstairs at the Garage through June 24) is both its ace and its Achilles’ heel. Six actors, switching hats and wigs, take on 16 parts, with men playing women, women playing men, and no pedant or curate too obscure to be left out. Evett argues that the Bard’s flirtatious early comedy is all about play and playacting. So his stripped-down staging, set to love songs both vintage and contemporary (issuing either from a cranked victrola or from a dangling iPod), wears its artifice on its sleeve. But whereas Nicholas Martin’s charming Huntington Theatre Company staging of last season emphasized Shakespeare’s linguistic dazzle and the play’s autumnal turn, this exaggeratedly comic production calls to mind the Keystone Kops deploying a very small police force. Indeed, from its introductory deadpan dance to “You Only Hurt the One You Love,” the show exudes the jauntiness of a silent movie. Unfortunately, it also forces its capable thespian contingent into caricature, some of it endearing, some not.

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