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Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo: Helen Maybanks Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo: Helen Maybanks
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Based on the 1954 MGM film and set 100 years before that, here’s a musical that could be seen to either be offering a cheerfully unreconstructed view of sexual politics in which the only possible purpose for women is to look after their menfolk, or alternatively suggests that women can assert their own power by fighting back against such a patriarchy, but landing a tamed husband is nonetheless a priority.

The title gives you the gist of the plot: here are seven brothers — each of them scruffy mountain men, living outside the town — in need of some female company and domestic assistance, so oldest brother Adam goes to town and secures himself a bride called Milly; and then his six siblings, unschooled in regular dating (but also living in an area where, we are told, there are 10 men for every girl), hatch a plan to kidnap women to marry.

It doesn’t really bear too close scrutiny, and director Rachel Kavanaugh doesn’t treat it too seriously. Rather, this flimsy skeleton of a plot becomes a platform from which to hang some utterly delightful numbers from the latter part of Hollywood’s golden age of screen musicals. While the West End and Broadway regularly adapt movies as musicals, the reverse process — of bringing musicals that have been made as films first back to the stage — is much rarer. Right now Broadway has An American in Paris and London has Bugsy Malone at Hammersmith, but it is difficult for either to improve on perfection.

Seven Brides, however, is hardly perfect, and it therefore yields more comfortably to its easy-going, light-as-a-feather live musical theatre treatment here. There’s more gingham than grit onstage, but the keystone to Kavanaugh’s production is an earnest sincerity: she doesn’t send it up but takes the story on its own terms. And with choreographer Alistair David and designer Peter McKintosh, she sends the stage into constant flurries of movement and colour.

The action regularly spills from the stage into the fan-shaped auditorium itself, with Alex Gaumond’s Adam making his first entrance through the audience. Gaumond is superbly cast, since he’s an old-fashioned leading man — he has a great voice and a handsome Adam Sandler-esque presence — but he also has a commanding presence that makes Laura Pitt-Pulford’s immediate infatuation with him plausible, too. Pitt-Pulford, too, is a radiant, ravishing Milly, combining brassy toughness with vulnerability.

Wild West musicals, from Annie Get Your Gun and Okahoma! to Calamity Jane and even Crazy for You, may be a dated genre, but Seven Brides breathes fresh life into them by maintaining the charm factor, even when it threatens to curdle and sour upon the foundations of sexism it is built on.

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Verdict
A musical about putting (and finding) women in their place is given its own perfect place to shine at Regent's Park
Mark Shenton
Mark is associate editor of The Stage, as well as New York critic. He has written regularly for The Stage since 2005. His columns appear online every Wednesday and Friday.
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