Recently voted third best musical in a poll for BBC Radio 2, Seven Brides for Seven Brides made its first West End return in 21 years on Wednesday (16 August 2006, previews from 10 August) at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where it opened to a star-studded audience (See Also 1st Night Photos, 17 Aug 2006).

In Oregon circa 1850, Adam goes to town to get a wife. Having convinced Milly to marry him, he brings her back to his backwoods cabin, where she discovers he has six live-in younger brothers who are anxious to get wives of their own. The stage version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is based on the 1954 Oscar-winning MGM musical, which starred Howard Keel as eldest brother Adam and Jane Powell as his wife Milly.

Featuring Dave Willetts as Adam, Shona Lindsay as Milly and Jay Webb as youngest brother Gideon, this stage production is directed by Maurice Lane and presented by UK Productions. Prior to its West End transfer, it had been on an extensive UK tour since October 2005.

Set and technical glitches at the press performance influenced many critics’ judgments, although most agreed that the company’s energy and buoyancy do much to override faults in both the low-budget production, more at home on tour than in the West End, and the dated screen-to-stage musical itself.

  • Terri Paddock on (2 stars) – “It’s clear that Charles Camm’s set was never up to much, but now it’s literally falling apart. As the evening progressed at the Haymarket, walls wobbled threateningly, doors wouldn’t stay shut, stagehands struggled to get the revolving set to revolve, screens didn’t lift on cue, props broke and a flower box crashed to the ground. Natalie Cole’s costumes also proved faulty: in the finale, one of the seven brides nearly danced out of her wedding dress thanks to a zipper that evidently wouldn’t zip. Such were the number of mishaps, I started to think I was watching a new musical version of Noises Off…. And yet, there is in fact much to enjoy here…. Dave Willetts… invests his performance with a rugged energy. But the real star of the show is Shona Lindsay, who sings the pants off the role of Milly.”

  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (2 stars) – “The silly season is clearly upon us. How else do you explain the arrival in the West End of this touring show which, after nine months on the road, has clearly lost some of its pristine freshness? The dancing is highly energetic. But you know you're in for an iffy evening when bits of the revolving set fail to meet and a vernal flower-box comes crashing to the ground… Only one thing keeps this alive; and that is the dancing. And, even if Adrian Allsopp's choreography can't altogether match Kidd's original, it is here delivered with verve. Dave Willetts as Adam looks suitably gruff and surly, but the character is an unlikeable stiff… Shona Lindsay chiefly suggests the cheery wholesomeness of a school matron in Godalming… I'd swap 10 minutes of Guys and Dolls for the whole of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.”

  • Benedict Nightingale in The Times (3 stars) – “As frontier musicals go, this certainly isn’t Oklahoma! and isn’t quite Annie Get Your Gun, either. But it’s good-natured and boasts the jaunty and pretty score that won an Oscar…. The axe-waving, log-chopping number is stronger in the film, as is the square-dance that escalates into a bust-up when Adam’s brothers go looking for wives themselves; but then the Haymarket stage isn’t large enough for anything very ambitious and Adrian Allsopp’s choreography is impressively bold…. Although Shona Lindsay brings vocal sweetness and some force of character to Milly, Dave Willetts’ Adam relies too much on built-in charisma and needs both to sharpen his diction and ensure that his singing voice doesn’t grind like a threshing machine at climaxes.”

  • Robert Gore-Langton in the Daily Mail (2 stars) – “I was rather hoping to go along with this vintage nonsense, shout ‘Yee-ha!’ and fire a few shots in the air for encouragement. But I lost the will to shoot anything but myself after about 20 minutes…. At least no one can accuse this company of a lack of enthusiasm or energy…. The lithe young brothers swing their rubber axes and jump about in cheap wigs, the entire cast with microphones prominently glued to their foreheads…. But I’m not sure that it’s viable any longer if you’ve seen the recent gay western, Brokeback Mountain. Are these brothers, one wonders, really looking for love – and if so, does it necessarily involve girls?”

  • Kieron Quirke in the Evening Standard (2 stars) – “A laughable technical fault got the press night of this devitalised revival off to a bad start. Otherwise the show, come to the West End after a lengthy tour, went like clockwork. But there's nothing like watching a clock to make the hours go slow.... Well drilled describes almost every aspect of the show. Whether it's down to months spent on the road, or to a chronic lack of imagination, Seven Brides feels produced by numbers.... Dave Willetts' Adam and Shona Lindsay's Milly show teeth and sing well but there's zilch chemistry there. The supporting cast prat about confidently but assume an audience goodwill not earned by the turgid script. The chocolate-box set opens and closes and looks decades old.”

  • Warwick Thompson in Metro (3 stars) - "There's one good thing about touring productions. They may be conceived on a budget of pennies, but you know they'll be drilled to within an inch of their lives by the time they reach London. And so it proves with director Maurice Lane's romp through Seven Brides for Seven Brides.... What more do you want in a musical? A set that doesn't wobble, for one, and acting that isn't continually pitched at pantomime level, for another…. Adrian Allsopp's crackling choreography makes up for a heck of a lot, though, and the big set-piece dance numbers all go with tremendous yee-ha energy. Dave Willetts and Shona Lindsay are both likeable as the principal brother (Adam) and bride (Milly)."

  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - “Everything about the show is inferior to the original picture, and the production… looks impoverished and irredeemably second-rate in a West End setting. Asking theatregoers to pay £47.50… is grotesque. You’d have thought that after touring for so long the show would at least have achieved a certain slickness, but not a bit of it.... The supporting cast seem incapable of individualising the remaining brothers and brides, and the poor blokes are burdened with hideously dreadful wigs and false beards that at least provide the best laughs of the evening…. Radio 2 listeners (are) unlikely to keep Maurice Lane’s woefully drab and unimaginative production running in the West End for long.”

    - by Jake Brunger