BWW Reviews: SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, Bristol Hippodrome, January 14 2014
If the January blues are getting you down, I can suggest no better cure than to do-si-do on down to the Bristol Hippodrome this week for a thigh-slapping evening of musical mayhem with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. A show packed full of raucous dance numbers, rugged sets (and men!) and downright rollocking entertainment, this old-fashioned musical is sure to bring even the grumpiest of bears out of hibernation.
Set in the harsh wilderness of Oregon, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers tells the tale of Adam Pontipee, a headstrong young man determined to find a wife to work alongside him in the unforgiving mountains and forests of the Beaver State. Although he achieves his goal, marrying the spunky Milly after an extremely brief meeting, his life gradually starts to unravel when he takes his new bride home. Upon arrival in the mountains, Milly discovers that she not only has one new man to care for, but seven, as Adam lives with his six younger, ill-mannered brothers.
Although Sam Attwater captured the cockiness and sexism of Adam Pontipee, and was convincing enough as the oldest brother who is head of the house and commands the attention of his younger siblings, I'm afraid to say that his vocal performance left me underwhelmed. The opening number lacked energy, and the potentially powerful 'Where Were You?' did not have the effect it should have, although I suspect that Attwater's vocal struggles were the result of illness, and I would be interested to see him perform again once he is in full voice.
In stark contrast, Helena Blackman's stunning performance was the highlight of the show for me. Soaring and effortless in the delivery of each and every song, Blackman's voice is reminiscent of that of a Disney princess. She strikes the perfect balance between heart and spunk, and plays an utterly endearing Milly, who nurtures the rather wild bunch of boys, turning them into well-mannered men.
I don't want to give too much away, but Seven Brides For Seven Brothers does leave you with a slightly bizarre feeling of contradiction at times, given that some of the underlying themes of the show are far darker than the piece depicts them to be, and you find yourself rooting for a bunch of men who, ordinarily, you would want to see locked up.
Winning the audience over with ease were the other six Pontipee brothers, each with their own unique character and take on the piece. Jack Greaves as the youngest brother Gideon gave a charming performance, showing off a lovely voice and forming an adorable pairing with Alice, played by Georgina Parkinson. Parkinson was, for me, my 'one to watch' where dancing was concerned, along with MariAnne Phillips as Ruth who also put in a beautiful performance.
The show contains some wonderfully exuberant dancing with interesting choreography by director and choreographer Patti Colombo, with the big dance scenes proving to be another highlight of the evening for many (despite a couple of technical hitches leading to two show stops during one of the major group dances - kudos to the cast for their positivity and good humour at this time!). I love watching tumblers, and so the abundance of acrobatics in the group numbers was a pleasant surprise, and the lively, upbeat music really brought the audience to life. However, although I thoroughly enjoyed the energy coming from the stage, I felt that the timing during the dance pieces wasn't as sharp as it could have been. In dance numbers as busy as those found in this production, timing is key, and some added attention to detail would have given those scenes some added impact.
The set is relatively basic, and can feel a bit too dynamic at times, but fits in well with the rugged, simplistic setting of the show and its characters. On the whole, I loved the costumes, particularly the array of dresses worn by the girls, but the odd piece felt somewhat out of place and far too modern, standing out against the more rustic, old-fashioned vibe of the other garments.
It may seem that I have been rather harsh and critical of this show, but my niggles really were minor ones, and my companions and I came out of the theatre feeling full of life and energy. I don't think I walked past one person on the way out who wasn't smiling, and there was plenty of cheering, yee-haw-ing and foot-tapping throughout the performance, proving that Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a dose of old-fashioned feel-good fun, and a show to catch this week to brighten up a gloomy January.