Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Richmond Theatre

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Music : Gene De Paul, Lawrence Kasha
Lyrics : Johnny Merce, Joel Hirschor, Larence Kasha
Book: Lawrence Kahsa
Director: Chris Hocking
Reviewer: Howard Holdsworth

I managed to catch up with the UK Productions Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the start of its run at the Richmond Theatre. Producers Martin Dodd and Peter Frosdick have worked together for 21 years now and other delights that will hit the country this year from their stable include Disney’s Beauty and The Beast, Singin’ In The Rain and Oklahoma!

There was much to delight the ear and eye on this wet and windy night by the Thames. The stand-out performances of the night came from the stars, Steven Houghton (London’s Burning, Bugs) and Susan McFadden who was the winner of ITV’s Grease Is The Word. Whilst Houghton did not in any way try to climb into the boots of Howard Keel in the Oscar-winning 1954 film his performance as Adam grew in stature after a slightly underpowered start. McFadden was the glue which held the production together. In her role as Milly she seemed to have a real empathy with the lyrics of Johnny Mercer and the music of Gene De Paul, and a great understanding with the Musical Director, Gareth Williams and the orchestra. What literally caught the eye were the imaginative sets designed by Charles Camm and the clever use of lighting and projection. When one adds in the wonderfully vibrant and colourful costumes designed by Elizabeth Dennis a true visual feast was presented.

At the very core of this musical, which was voted the third most popular of all time by BBC Radio 2 listeners, is the ensemble playing. All the three main groups – Adam’s brothers, The Brides, the Suitors – worked tremendously hard to bring the audience all the sassy effervescence which the show possesses. Their dazzling dance routines, excellent timing, and show-stopping singing gave the show its impetus and for this reviewer its lasting memory. All of the best loved songs including Bless Your Beautiful Hide, Goin’Courtin’ and Wonderful, Wonderful Day were given the full treatment, bringing rapturous responses from an appreciative, nostalgic audience. But it has to be said that this cast gave all the impression that it was sheer joy to
perform under the expert direction of Chris Hocking. Where this musical can fall down is in the performances of some of the less well known songs such as We Gotta Make It Through The Winter, but Hocking injected a little more pace and a lighter note into the song than usual. Such deft touches can lift a whole show.

The audience gave the ensemble a wonderful reception at the end. I just hope that players will get the chance to sing and dance out their dreams on a slightly larger stage than that of the Richmond Theatre, then they might just take us all in our minds out to the wide spaces of Oregon with them.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers runs at the Richmond Theatre until Sat 14th Feb 09
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