A modernized version of the Golden Age musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" will make its debut via a staged reading in the spring 2021, thanks to the involvement of local playwright and composer David Forrest, who plans to cast locals in the performances.
If you know the musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," you may understand why one of its creators wanted to modernize it for the age of #MeToo.
Set in Oregon prior to statehood, the show tells of six mountain men brothers who come in from the wild, looking for wives akin to the one their older brother has brought home. It's a fun show with memorable tunes, save for one slight problem that doesn't play as well as it did in the 1950s, when the movie was created, or even the late '70s, when the stage musical followed: The men abduct six women and bring them home for the winter, even triggering an avalanche to assure alone time until the spring thaw.
Hearts are won over in the interim, but still, kidnapping, even for love, is still kidnapping — except when it's been altered in a key way by the likes of David Forrest, of Bend.
Forrest's original musical "It's Only Money" made its world premiere eight years ago at Cascades Theatrical Company. In 2016, Forrest's mini-musical "PC Red, White and Blues" won the 24/7 Theatre Project at the erstwhile 2nd Street Theater, and later became part of "Short Stuff," a series of one-acts at the theater. Two years ago, 2nd Street hosted a workshop performance of his second full-length musical, then called “Occupy,” now called "Zuccotti Beach," a musical dramedy about strangers who bond in Zuccotti Park during Occupy Wall Street.
But it was "It's Only Money" that attracted the attention of David Landay in New York. Landay co-wrote the book for "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" back in the 1970s. Based on the 1954 film of the same name, the stage version featured Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer tunes from the original movie, along with several new songs by Joel Hirschhorn and Al Kasha.
Back in 2012, Forrest had Michelle Alvarado of Wahoo Films shoot video of "It's Only Money," staged at CTC, which made it onto YouTube.
"Someone that he (Landay) knows, saw the show, and unbeknownst to me, sent him links to the video," Forrest said. "I had quietly put it up on YouTube, just to share it with some people."
One day about five years ago, Landay called.
"I get a voicemail. 'Hi David. My name is David Landay. Please Google me and call me back,'" Forrest said. "So I get on the phone — by this time I realize …. that he's written a few Broadway shows. He's produced a couple of Broadway shows, some that have won Tony awards."
Landay was also a founder of Broadway Cares, a nonprofit organization that collects money at professional productions for AIDS-related causes. "He's kind of known as Broadway royalty, so to speak," Forrest said.
Landay had seen the video of the CTC production of "It's Only Money," and even asked questions about the script, suggesting he could help get it off-Broadway. He also asked about the other project he was working on, which was then "Occupy."
When Forrest asked Landay who he'd been talking to, he was told, "It's not important."
Landay told Forrest he thought he should put "It's Only Money" on the backburner and focus on his new show based on Occupy Wall Street.
"This was the conversation where he became my mentor," Forrest said.
Forrest set to work, and about a year after the workshop performance of "Occupy" at 2nd Street, the two were talking about the show, a conversation that would lead Forrest to change the show's title to "Zuccotti Beach."
Skipping ahead, in December 2019, Landay got a call from Music Theatre International that The MUNY, in St. Louis, the oldest and largest outdoor theater in the U.S., wants to do "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" again.
"Ever since 'Seven Brides' premiered back in the late '70s, it's been at MUNY every seven or eight years," Forrest said. "It's 11,000 seats, and in a week's time 77,000 people will see the show."
Landay's contact at MTI told him that MUNY wants the show updated to be palatable to the age of #MeToo.
"It turns out that the person that sent him links to the video (of "It's Only Money") was standing with him when he got this phone call from MTI," Forrest said. When Landay told the person he wasn't sure how he'd update "Seven Brides" for #MeToo, the person put in a vote for Forrest, who over the past several years, has taken classes through The Dramatists Guild on such subjects as the architecture of musicals, the heroine in modern musical theater and other topics.
Forrest's background is in software development. "I'm one of these right-brained, left-brained people who's always been involved in art and software," Forrest said.
With the benefit of his Dramatists Guild classes, "I learned to look at musicals the same way you look at a software application. Because there's so much prior art in the catalog that the patterns have emerged."
After talking to Landay about updating the show, Forrest went to work playing dramaturg for the show — a dramaturg being a sort of script editor who gets to know the bones of a show and improve it in the course of things.
He spent the next weekend on YouTube and got a copy of the script, "Because at this point, it's like, here's my opportunity to show Landay what I can do," Forrest said. "Essentially, I came up with a roadmap for us to follow."
Forrest made some notes about plot points and characters, and even wrote an original new song for the show, which had been slated to premiere this past August at The MUNY. Due to COVID-19, its season was shortened, then postponed until 2021.
Now, the plan is for the full modernized show to make its big premiere at MUNY next season. As a result of the delay, things are being set up for the staged reading of the show in Bend, and after the MUNY premiere, the goal is a national tour of the work to end back on Broadway.
It was Forrest's idea to do a staged reading in his hometown. After securing the help of Central Oregon theater contacts, including Sandy Klein of Stage Right Productions, Forrest told Landay he could pull off a staged reading of the new version of "Seven Brides" here.
"He says, 'Look, if you can save me the time and trouble, please go ahead … I couldn't think of a better place than Oregon to do it,'" Forrest said.
Forrest said that at the next production meeting, they'll be looking to identify a director and a movement/choreographer and identifying possible locations to hold spring performances and begin casting. Casting will initially be done via an invitation to hand-picked locals. In January, open auditions will take place to fill any remaining slots and for the ensemble/chorus.
Forrest suggests that this could lead to exposure for local musical theater talent, as a live stream and recording of the readings will be viewed by Broadway producers and directors.