CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign Urbana Theatre Company has met its goal with this year's Kathy Murphy Student Production of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," opening tonight at the Parkland Theatre.
"All of the core staff are alumni," executive producer Joe Murphy said. "This is essentially a student show run by students."
Well, all but one staff member are college students who participated in past Kathy Murphy Student productions.
The only one who's not currently in college is Tim Broeker, drama director at Urbana High School.
He directs the 35-member cast of students from several area high schools and home schools. But he is an alumnus of the Kathy Murphy Student Production, having worked as a student director and props person for CUTC's 2006 student production of "Les Miserables." Helping him on "Seven Brides ..." is Becky Park.
Cullyn Murphy, Joe's son and a nephew of the late Kathy Murphy, a CUTC co-founder for whom the annual student production is named, is the music director.
He's been in too many CUTC shows to list, and was music director of the last two CUTC student productions. For "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," he's directing a 17-member pit orchestra.
The stage manager is Tabitha Camp, who will be a college freshman this fall. Alum Adrian Rochelle is assisting both Murphy and choreographer Chloe Ward.
Ward and Rochelle, both Central High alums now majoring in musical theater, have their work cut out for them. "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" is a dance-heavy musical done in the style of Broadway's golden age, Cullyn Murphy said.
"It has very hummable melodies — strong song melodies that will be repeated multiple times during the show," he said. "The composers were trying to write hit songs as well."
The book for the musical was created by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, and the music by Gene de Paul, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. Johnny Mercer, Al Kasha and Hirschhorn wrote the lyrics.
Some of the songs in the musical are in the movie. Some are not.
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" premiered in 1982 on Broadway. It's based on the 1954 Stanley Donen movie of the same title.
The show gives all cast members a chance to shine, as it's in the songbook style, with less participation by a chorus, according to Cullyn Murphy, an Illinois State University music education and composition major.
"They're not songs that move the plot along. They're songs that savor the moment, that shed light on what the characters are like and find interest in what they want to do," he said.
Working on a musical like "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" is not only fun for the young cast members. It provides them an education in a safe setting, putting them on stage with others and having them understand what kind of decisions have to be made on stage and musically, Cullyn Murphy said.
"Especially at this age, it's important for them to learn how theater works and not just how a show is done," he added.
The cast also learns about the period in which "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" is set — 1850s Oregon.
The musical tells the story of Milly, a young bride living in the wilderness. She plans to civilize and marry off her six rowdy brothers-in-law. Her plan backfires when they kidnap six women from a neighboring town to be their brides.
Not exactly a feminist tale.
But Cullyn Murphy said CUTC surveys of audiences last year showed a "surprisingly strong response" for "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."
And, he said, the student actors understand the differences between the show and now.
"You're representing a time period, not an ideal," he said.
"When you do 'Sweeney Todd' you're not promoting murder," added Cullyn's father.
Jessica Elliott, a University of Illinois sophomore from Urbana majoring in theater studies, is helping Joe Murphy produce the show.
"I think it's very interesting to watch this generation discuss this musical," she said before rehearsal Monday night at the Parkland Theatre. "They're having their own kind of fun with it. They're not just accepting the lines or their parts to learn — they're trying to understand them."
If you go
What: Champaign Urbana Theatre Company's ninth annual Kathy Murphy Student Production of the musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," directed by Tim Broeker with assistance from Becky Park. Music direction by Cullyn Murphy and assistant Adrian Rochelle; choreography by Chloe Ward and Rochelle.
When: 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday and next Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. this and next Sunday.
Where: Parkland Theatre, 2400 W. Bradley Ave., C.
Tickets: $16 for adults; $12, senior citizens and students; and $8, children.
Reservations: tix.extremetix.com/Online/?siteID=2589 or at the door.