A technical glitch at the start of the West End press performance was a harbinger of things to come. As the house lights dimmed, the curtain rose on a screen that was supposed to show us countryside views; instead, it displayed an LCD projector error message of “no input detected”.
This screen-to-stage production of the MGM musical comedy, about a family of backwoods brothers who resort to kidnapping their wives à la the Romans with the Sabine women, has been touring the UK on and off since 2001 and continuously for the past nine months. Reading back over my colleague’s earlier review below, 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. Farcical, indeed.
And yet, there is in fact much to enjoy here. While Dave Willetts may be far too long in the tooth as leading man and eldest brother Adam (there’s meant to be only eight years’ difference between the seven siblings – multiply that by three and you may get closer to the real age span on stage), he does invest 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, Adam’s feisty wife and mother hen to his brothers.
As for the rest of the fraternal clan, once they’re able to ditch some embarrassing wigs and beards, they display plenty of athletic ensemble charm, particularly during their impressive dance numbers – lots of high-jumping, somersaulting and axe-swinging - that do much to lift proceedings. With a couple song solos and a knockout punch, Jay Webb as the diminutive youngest brother Gideon has his chance to shine individually and seizes it.
Fans of the 1954 film, and I admit I’m one of them, will also appreciate the reprisals of songs including “Bless Your Beautiful Hide”, “Goin’ Courtin’” and “Sobbin’ Women”. Those ditties, the star quality of Shona Lindsay and, as the preacher would say, some “mighty fine dancing” really hold this shaky revival together.
- Terri Paddock
NOTE: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from November 2005 and an earlier tour stop for this production.
Most musical lovers remember MGM's classic musical movie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers starring Howard Keel. It always seems to be a perennial favourite on terrestrial TV over the Christmas period. The incredible choreography, the old fashioned morals, and the interesting plot strands focusing on the effect a group of home-lovin' women have on a group of macho men still entertains today.
This lively and heart-warming production follows the story of Adam, one of seven brothers, who goes into town looking for a wife. After he meets the homely Milly, he woos her with his machismo attitude to life and she returns to his backwoods home. What she finds there is a household in real need of love. She sets out to teach these men how to respect women. Adam has other ideas, believing women to be like bears one can trap.
This may seem incredibly corny, dated and out of synch in a world where, thankfully, times have changed; but the great thing about this delightful musical is that it’s upbeat, inoffensive and unashamedly romantic. Criticising it for its gender representation is as pointless as picking holes in Grease for the same reason.
Dave Willetts and Shona Lindsay give show-stopping performances as the two lovers hoping to be matchmakers for everyone else. Lindsay has a lovely operatic quality to her voice and Willetts knows how to deliver a song with full on emotion. Of the brothers, Jay Webb brings athleticism and strong vocals to the role of Gideon. Paul Spicer also dances incredibly well and has a real knack for comedy.
Adrian Allsopp's stunning choreography keeps the talented cast literally on their toes. Director Maurice Lane clearly respects Lawrence Kasha's original book, but he also adds the odd modern nudge and wink so that the audience do not view the production as a museum piece.
The only downside in this incredibly warm-hearted musical is Charles Camm's pantomime-style set. It doesn’t do the show justice and at times it looks cheap and tacky. But don’t let that put you off, because UK Productions have crafted a finely tuned musical which leaves you feeling quite wonderful.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Opera House, Manchester)