Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Book by Lawrence Kasha and David S. Landy. Music by Gene de Paul - Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
New Victoria Theatre, Woking, and touring
Who would expect that a story originally written in 75 AD by the Greek historian, biographer and philosopher Mestrius Plutarchus would still be going strong and entertaining audiences in 2006? Plutarchs tales were translated into English and were known to Shakespeare, who used their subject matter in many of his own plays, and in 1954 the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers had its UK premiere at the Empire in Leicester Square, taking as its theme the story of the Sabine Women who were abducted by a troupe of Romans, now translated into mid-west America in the mid nineteenth century. This project was a bit of a gamble as it contained none of the usual and successful ingredients of the time. It was not taken from a stage hit, or even a prize-winning novel, and there were no scantily clad chorus girls to attract, but it worked - and worked exceptionally well turning out to be the most exciting musical since Oklahoma. Its appeal lay mostly in the exhilarating and melodious music, but also in the fact that the simple uninhibited characters were so infectiously full of life, extraordinarily athletic dancers, and the scenery of the wide open spaces of backwoods America was truly stunning.
In a stage play the scenery is the missing ingredient, although they do their best with projections of snow scenes and forests, beginning with pictures of the pioneers, in their covered wagons, trekking across country to their new life in the wilds of America.
As far as the athleticism of the dancers is concerned, we have that in abundance the twenty eight strong cast dancing up a storm especially when the rough redneck Pontipee brothers attend a social in the nearby town and in the rivalry between them and the local townsfolk (all competing for the same girls) the dancing degenerates into a fist fight - extremely well choreographed (by Adrian Allsopp) and executed. This is not the well-drilled somewhat staccato usual modern style of choreography but much more in the hillbilly square dance form of dance performed with great speed and dexterity, and of course to the terrific music, Bless Your Beautiful Hide, Wonderful, Wonderful Day and Spring, Spring, Spring being enough to lift the spirits even before we get to the comical Goin Courtin.
Dave Willetts is elder brother Adam Pontipee, with a wonderful voice which would resonate around the hills of the American west, given the chance, and Shona Lindsay as Milly, the girl whom he marries five minutes after deciding Shell Do is as sweet and innocent as you could wish, but with a strong determined personality which ends up ruling the household of seven unruly brothers and with a beautiful singing voice too clear as a bell.
Charles Camm has rather gone overboard on the set very solid, very dark and very large. It certainly depicts well the interior of a large log cabin, swivelling around to show a town square with snow covered mountains in the background, but it also reduces the size of the stage, which rather restricts the action of the dancers, and some of the scene changes necessitate too much action having to take place in front of the curtain, very reminiscent of a pantomime or the old time Variety Theatre, and in fact the whole show has an old-fashioned feel to it not necessarily a bad thing and the age range of the appreciative audience was from about five to eighty five, so I would recommend it as a very pleasant family show nothing to strain the brain just enjoy!
Touring to Torquay, Swansea, Bristol, Glasgow, Derby, Outer London, Milton Keynes, Southampton, Liverpool, Sunderland and Edinburgh.
This review was first published in Theatreworld Internet Magazine
Reviewer: Sheila Connor