A dazzling display of amazing choreography is very much the highlight of the new touring production of the high-energy musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which brings a flavour of classic Hollywood musicals to Brighton this week.
Acclaimed director/choreographer Patti Colombo certainly puts the lads and lasses through their paces, with some breathtaking and vibrant dance numbers that would spice up any show – but the overall production is somewhat underwhelming.
It’s a stage show based on the original 1954 screen musical with songs by Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer, though the theatrical version has more songs (by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn) and ditches a couple of film favourites. However, the stage show has offered popular touring fare for a few years now, and this version has been restaged so should feel fresh and exciting.
Good musicals must offer strong plot, memorable songs, slick dancing, well-drawn characters and solid performances. With the significant exception of Helena Blackman as the gutsy Milly – the girl swept off her feet to marry a woodsman only to find she has to take on his six uncouth brothers as well – there are no knock-you-down performances. Helena has a fantastic voice and steals the acting and singing honours in such numbers as Wonderful, Wonderful Day and Goin’ Courtin’.
Sam Attwater is woefully miscast as Adam Pontipee: he has an odd American accent, which makes it difficult to understand much of what he says, and he lacks much-needed maturity in the central role as well as possessing a weak singing voice, meaning such showstoppers as Bless Your Beautiful Hide and Sobbin’ Women are limp.
The six buff Pontipee brothers and the six brides they woo and win attempt to give their characters individual traits (with Jack Greaves as Gideon being the most pleasing) but the shrieking of the girls quickly becomes tiresome, causing one to wonder if the poor guys might be better off as ‘lonesome polecats’.
On several occasions the scenery looks on the point of collapse, and scene changes are clunking, intrusive and careless – surely something that should have been sorted out by now after several weeks on the road.
It says a lot about this production that the biggest (and most deserving) applause goes to the acrobatic and boisterous big dance numbers. However, there just has to be more to a touring musical – especially when such an ensemble piece - than one strong female lead plus some jaw-dropping and energetic dance routines.