Date Reviewed: 29th October, 2008
Venue: The Opera House
As the chill of winter starts to bite and the recession dawns, some form of feel-good entertainment is much needed and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers succeeds in providing you with a warm glow on a cold night.
The show contains some of the best-known songs in musical theatre written by Gene de Paul with lyrics by Johnny Mercer (and songs written for the stage version by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn). The book, by Lawrence Kasha and David S. Landay, tells how spirited Milly (Susan McFadden) marries backwoodsman Adam (Steven Houghton) following a whirlwind romance, unaware that part of his motive is to secure a cook and cleaner for him and his six brothers.
Milly then persuades the boys that a better option is for them to marry and teaches them to court potential brides with respect. When this plan fails Adam implements an alternative approach – with potentially disastrous consequences for the whole community.
This production has toured for some time and Charles Camm‘s set is beginning to show signs of wear and tear. But it was never was much better than average to begin with. Fortunately it is the only really disappointing part of the production, as director Chris Hocking minimises these limitations.
The shaky background projections generate an almost affectionate response reflected in a character remarking that he’s never seen an avalanche like the one that fills the screen. Hocking’s light directorial style brings out the humour in a show that could become too dark with its scenes of kidnap and enforced marriage. A potential lynch mob is portrayed as closer to Elma Fudd hunting wabbits and the six brothers, shown to be lacking any sort of manners, are influenced by J P Gumby out of Monty Python.
Hocking choreographs with skill and creates an atmosphere in which the enthusiasm of the cast is clear.The splits and leaps of the six brothers are of ballet standard and more than compensate for the lack of dance skills in the lead actors.The social dance is made up of a bewildering range of dance styles that build to an exciting climax. Hocking doesn’t neglect the need to tell the story and ensures that throughout this remarkable sequence the tension between the brothers and the other suitors becomes apparent.
Houghton has the perfect deep gruff voice but is a bit too smooth to convince as a hard-worn mountain man and lacks the ignorant swagger of a true sexist. However, once his unconvincing beard is removed, he cuts a dashing figure and has a cruel edge that makes Adam’s extreme plan credible.
McFadden is excellent as Milly. She has great vocals and also highlights Milly’s romantic nature and determination, coupled with integrity. There is not a weak link in the cast and even though they work well as a team, it is still possible to see the individual characteristics that make them fuly rounded folk, rather than just another chorus line.
This is also helped by the colourful costumes by Elizabeth Dennis that emphasise individuality and create a cheerful atmosphere.
There have been a number of dodgy jukebox musicals in Manchester this season so it is a pleasure to welcome a show that comes close to being the real deal.