Two words describe why you should consider seeing the Lazy Susan Dinner Theatre production of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers": Kristen Jepperson. She's one-seventh of the brides, one-half of the leading couple and the person responsible for a significant percentage of the show's success.
It's an energetic, dance-filled show combining lilting, melodic songs and solid acting anchored by the charismatic, sweet-voiced Jepperson. Director Hans Bachman chose wisely when he selected her, as she is able to make palatable a situation based on an unapologetically sexist outlook. The character she creates onstage is so strong that we figure, well, if she's fine with all this, then maybe we, too, can overlook it for a while.
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" is based on the 1954 MGM movie musical in which Adam, the oldest of seven backwoods brothers in 1850s Oregon (played here by Bachman), heads into town to find a wife. What he's really seeking is a free housemaid for himself and his unruly clan. He instantly wins the heart of independent Milly, played by Jepperson, whose fully dimensional performance helps us suspend our disbelief that such a clear-minded and attractive young woman would be interested in such a callous slob.
Adam conveniently neglects to tell Milly until he has her married and arriving at his remote mountain home that he has six brothers and that she is expected to cook and clean and mend and otherwise act as their mother and maid. Milly schemes to get the grungy lot married off so other women can share the burden of taking care of them, and she tutors the boys in the art of wooing. The plan takes a bad twist when her Neanderthal husband persuades them to kidnap the girls they've been trying to court.
The film was a modest success, with a score by the great balladeer Johnny Mercer and pop music composer Gene DePaul.
But that was 1954. Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, who wrote the stage version, used Plutarch's "The Rape of the Sabine Women" for inspiration, and one of the songs that is still in the show, called "Sobbin' Women," is sung by the reprobate menfolk and features such astonishingly offensive lyrics as "They acted angry and annoyed, but secretly they was overjoyed." Audiences in 1982 didn't find that and similar sentiments very amusing, and a stage version of the movie lasted only five performances before being hooted off Broadway. That's the version Lazy Susan is performing, with several new songs from some people you've probably never heard of, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn.
If you can put aside your qualms about the sexism, you'll enjoy a lively, colorful show notable for well-sung ballads, catchy hoedown numbers, outstanding athletic choreography by Stefan Sittig and the vibrant presence of Jepperson. Bachman is always a pleasure to watch and listen to, as well, although the doltish character he plays is impossible to like.
Lazy Susan always records the music for playback with live singers, usually doing a superb job. But here they apparently opted for economy and relied on heavy use of a synthesizer.
Despite the cheesy music, Jepperson beautifully sings such lovely songs as "Wonderful, Wonderful Day" and is harmoniously joined by Bachman in one of the "new" songs, "When You're in Love." It's unfortunate they're not using microphones, as they can barely be heard over the music.
Although, with some of the words they're stuck with, that's not altogether a bad thing.
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" will be performed through July 11 at the Lazy Susan Dinner Theatre, Route 1 at Furnace Road, Woodbridge. Performances begin at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 8:30 p.m. Saturdays and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. For reservations or dining information, call 703-550-7384 or visit www.lazysusan.com.