Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Flint Repertory Theatre was proud Friday evening to offer the world premiere of The Magnificent Seven. Written by Gordon Leary and composed by Julia Meinwald, this stunning production captures the story of the 1996 U.S. World Gymnastics Team as they compete for Olympic Gold on the world stage. It is intriguing, entertaining, and most of all a deep dive into the pressure and pleasure of world competition, all set to music.
Portraying the real seven members of the ’96 team are as follows: Shannon Miller (Mary Paige Rieffel), Kerri Strug (Phoebe Strole), Dominique Moceanu (Alex Finke), Dominique Dawes (Bryana Hall), Amy Chow (Amanda Kuo), Amanda Borden (Monica Spencer), and Jaycie Phelps (Hana Slevin). All are marvelous vocalists and their ability to harmonize and to belt out a solo number whenever required is terrific.
In fact they begin the show with a song and dance to “Welcome To My House” followed by “Back in ‘92” where there is some reminiscence by the returning contestants for whom this isn’t their first Olympics. Mary Paige Rieffel’s strong vocals are present here and throughout as she portrays a returning medal winner.
Three judges sitting high up and behind the audience include John Tesh (Bret Beaudry), Elfi Schlegel (Beth Guest) and Tim Daggett (Scott Anthony Joy). They comment and even are approached by the team at one point when they are a bit outspoken.
The story proceeds in song with much of the angst, joy and pride that these ladies must accept and work for portrayed through music. Kerri Strug’s first solo, “Always Almost”, intended to be done with a swing found one side of the swing not releasing. Still Strole was able to accept this and made it smoothly through the number with little problem.
We loved the pictures on the sidewalls that pictured former champions especially Mary Lou Retton who was the subject of a group number. Clad in glittering leotards the group sang of their idolization of Mary Lou! And another outstanding number was performed solo by Dominique Dawes with Hall very strong and marvelous on “The Middle of the Moment”.
As the show continues we begin to realize the stress these ladies face including the younger of the two Dominiques, Alex Finke. Only 14, she seems constantly racing to keep up with the experience of the others. They are good to her, but she understands the strain expressed in “You Can’t Let It Show” sung by the whole group.
One number we identified strongly with was “My Body Is” where the group reveals the extent to which these gals must give out and give up as they train and strain to achieve their goal. Speaking to the audience and to their coaches also perhaps, the song says “my body is yours – it was never mine”.
We must mention the number when a vision of Mary Lou Retton played by Emi Fishman returns from 1984 to sing “Remember”. It’s sweet and made us smile.
There is a lot more to savor in this production. Wonderfully directed by Catie Davis and choreographed by Duane Lee Holland Jr., the play moves smoothly and with rhythmic synchrony.
The Magnificent Seven continues at Flint Repertory Theatre through April 16. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810.237.7333 or at tickets.thefim.com