Friday, November 03, 2006

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Although it rained heavily on the 28th of October 2006 at Bangalore in the afternoon, by evening the dark clouds had given way to a clear sky. The evening was perfectly set for another great performance of a musical, which was staged, from October 27th to 30th October.

Musicals are a form of theater which combine music, songs, spoken dialogue and dance. The entire performance which is an amalgamation of humor, pathos, love, anger and other human emotions,along with the main the story itself, is communicated through words, music, dance and movement. Words, movement and music as the integrated whole are the most interesting facet of this form of art.

This classical form of theater survives only in a few cities in India. The audience for old musical classics in Bangalore, despite the spread of television channels and videocassettes, is still enormous. A full house on the 28th of Oct 2006 at Chowdiah Hall for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (i.e. SBFSB) was a living proof of this. (Picture below is near the entrance to the Hall.)

"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" is basically a love story that charms the viewer with warmth and wit. The musical loaded with foot-tapping songs, wonderful dance numbers, and an enjoyable story, enthralled the entire audience. It's a wonderful treat whether you have or have not seen it.

The story is about a backwoodsman named Adam, the eldest of seven brothers who live together on their remote farm in the Oregon Territory in the 1850s. Adam goes to town to find a bride and is fortunate to find Milly. Milly is swept off her feet by the dashing young man, and without knowing much about him, she marries him that very afternoon. When they return to Adam's backwoods cabin, Milly is surprised to find that Adam lives with his six likable but ill mannered brothers. The brothers have been named alphabetically with names from the Bible: Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank and Gideon.

She takes on the daunting task of civilizing these men. Milly teaches Adam's younger brothers manners and social mores, including how to dance. One of the highlights in the play is when Milly tells Gideon,the youngest among the brothers the word "etiquette" and he has no clue as to what it means. Milly then explains Gideon what it really means. After undergoing a thorough training session,the brothers test their new manners at a barn raising, where they meet six girls namely Dorcas, Ruth, Martha, Liza, Sarah and Alice. Fortunately, the girls like the brothers too. However, the girls already have wooers who jealously taunt the brothers into fighting during the barn-raising.The brothers are banished from the town as they are considered uncultured and rustic.

Winter arrives, and the six younger brothers waste their time thinking about the girls. Adam inspires his brothers to kidnap the girls of their choice. The brothers, follow their elder brother's suggestion and cause an avalanche so that they can't be followed by the townspeople. The girls are terribly upset at being kidnapped, and Milly is furious at this act. She sends the brothers to the barn while the girls are living in the house. Adam, who is also furious, leaves for the family's cabin to live out the winter by himself. Months pass, and eventually it is spring. The girls have by now fallen in love with the brothers, who are now allowed to court the girls. Milly gives birth to a daughter, Hannah (picking up the Biblical-alphabetical pattern). Gideon rides to the cabin to inform Adam about his daughter's arrival and asks Adam to come home, but Adam refuses to do so.

This part of the musical has display of male chauvinism,when Adam says that "a female's place is behind a male". But Gideon who by now has acquired true knowledge slaps his elder brother and says "a female's place is beside a male and not behind a male".

Adam, realizes that he was wrong and returns home to see his baby daughter. As a newly responsible father, he is more concerned about the townspeople. Adam feels that the girls should be taken back to their homes in the town by his brothers, much against the interest of his brothers.The girls, by now, are deeply in love with their boyfriends and they all want to stay at the farm. Meanwhile, the townspeople arrive, with the intention of taking vengeance against the brothers for the kidnapping the girls. Then Alice's father, who is a preacher, hears a baby cry in the distance, and worries that the baby might belong to one of the girls. When he asks the girls whose baby it is, they all decide, simultaneously, to claim the baby as their own. With this misinformation given, the wish of the the girls and the brothers gets fulfilled,the townspeople insist that all six couples marry immediately in a shotgun wedding.

The performers for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers were Sharon White (Milly), Arvind Kasturi (Adam) and Gautam Dev (Preacher) among others. Michael D'Souza directed the music. The six musicians played with gusto in an attempt to mesmerize the audience. The dances were choreographed by Lionel De Nazareth, Neha Kapoor and John Fernandez. Arvind Kasturi, who plays the role of the chief protagonist, specializes in community medicine in St. John's Medical College and Hospital and did his medicine at Kasturba Medical College in Mangalore. The best performance of the day was by Sharon White as her dancing was highly energetic and her songs were solacing.

Arvind Kasturi (Adam).

In my view the musical is about the civilizing influence of women - in that Adam's bride, Milly, teaches the un-mannered men table manners, courtship and the need for sexual restraint during a long, hard winter.

Sharon White(Milly).

Alvares did a great job in her directorial skills. SBFSB being an all time classic, everybody would have read about it somewhere or seen the movie and then would compare her effort with their previous experiences. "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" is one of the greatest Hollywood musicals featuring some of the top talents of MGM's heyday, and any flaws were likely to be magnified. But Alvares pulled off with a fine job in that it doesn't appear like another "guys-want-girls, guys-kidnap-girls, girls-scream-then-succumb" storyline.

Alvares introducing the team on stage.
The only pitfalls of the performance, which I could think of, are two:

1.The brothers' unkempt cabin should give the picture of untidiness and appalling, but it looks as tidy as the place we've seen Milly come from.

2.The costumes were not up to the mark for an 1850 period play and it appeared more contemporary. Leila seemed to have missed paying attention to this little detail.Her handling of this challenging play showed flashes of brilliance in putting the dance sequences immaculately "because you can't have a musical without dances". So all in all I would give her a 9/10 and keep it up.

With increasing costs and declining newspaper space for theater, making the effort a commercially successful one was always going to be a challenge. The CAUSE Foundation, which presented the play, tied up with local radio channels for publicity.Alvares started CAUSE in 1997 with the primary objective to showcase the existing local talent in the field of the creative arts, with the surplus funds going to charity. Alvares is a very common name for Bangalore theatre bugs and she has close to 10 years of theatrical experience.

This is from one of the interviews, which Alvares gave to Times of India. "Though I have lived in America and London, I prefer Europe because it's so quaint. But her all time favorite destinations are Coorg and Goa". In that she also mentions her love for Bangalore and the interest it still retains in musicals in this age of candy gloss movies, run of the mill block busters and re-mix songs which shatter the simplicity and authenticity of art.

Alvares thanking the audience.

(Info: The Hindi movie Satte Pe Satta, released in 1982 is partially based on the storyline of this musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.)

Alvares and team, Bangalore theatre aficionados will be keenly waiting for your next production, so come soon.

Cross-posted at Desicritics

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