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1040 Abroad

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, music by Gene de Paul, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London SW19 1QG

Reviewed by Peter Lawler

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
The Brides....
I, a stage musical cynic, confess: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is good fun. Rollicking good fun, in fact. Raucous, grab-your-partner, good, country fun. I won't say it is perfect or that it is PC. I'm afraid you'll have to leave your political sensitivity at the theatre doors, but for a real piece of Americana in London right now, head on down to The New Wimbledon Theatre for this aural and visual spectacle.

For those who don't know it, this stageshow has enjoyed a colourful history, first as an MGM movie musical, when that genre was in its heyday, before that a short story that was essentially an American West rewriting of the Roman Legend of The Sabine Women, and later to become one of the most popular and beloved film musicals of all time. And although it has been brought to the stage on the American side of the Atlantic, it seems to have enjoyed more success here. Probably for good reason.

It presents us with a vibrant, larger than life, wholesome America, an ideal America, an America that is tinged with nostalgia, but possibly never existed, not in the glorious god-fearing way that it appears on stage in this story. For the British, it shows off the best of our nature, the rugged individualist who is, at heart, a diamond in the rough, a charming individual with spunk and spirit. For us expats, it represents an ossified picture of ourselves from some bygone past that is pleasant to remember and think about, even if a little indulgent.

And it is a portrait of joyous, buoyant Oregon, teeming with life and vitality, presented with gusto in this production. Don't be fooled by the star billing. Sam Attwater, of Eastenders and Hollyoaks fame, is generally agreeable and seemed to be what certain contingent of the audience were waiting for, but felt a bit more Ronan Keating than Gene Kelly and this show could use a little less nasal boyband star, a little more Broadway. Helena Blackman, of Lloyd Webber vehicle How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, was very good, excellent even, but not extraordinary. And by the second act, the story of the romance between Adam the frontiersman and Milly the sassy, barmaid-turned-homemaker starts to wear and feel a bit wet.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
...and the Brothers. Steady, ladies!.
What truly made this show watchable and lifted it to new heights, propelling the momentum from their initial appearance on stage, were the other six Pontipee brothers. So gleefully infectious was their collective joie de vivre, so charming were their mischievous spirits that I found myself tapping away to 'Sobbin Women' in spite of myself shortly into the second act. The chemistry between the brothers and their objects of affection 'from the town' was pure magic. Deserving of special mention was Sam Stones as Frank (full name, Frankincense), the brashest, most uncouth of the brothers and therefore the one with the most rough edges left over after the influence of Milly has its effect. His adept and natural movement and precise comic timing give him a natural stage charisma that will stand him in future. And it is their rhythm, their spellbinding dance routines, entirely dismissive of gravity, bursting into leaps, flips and lifts, and their native charm that had me looking forward to every scene with the brothers in a show that is surely made for these wonderfully rich, rafter-bursting ensemble pieces.

The bad news is that accents are inconsistent – ranging unconvincingly from On The Waterfront to Of Mice and Men – and it's unclear whether there is or is not a tacit endorsement of blatant chauvinism. But if you squint your eyes and don't look too hard for authenticity, you'll find some genuine warmth in this technicolor extravaganza.

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