1850’s Oregon is brought to life by a stage filled with bright costumes, mesmerising dancing and a dazzling set which tells the story of Adam, the eldest of seven brothers, going to town to find a wife.
Anna Louizo’s set captures the energy of the performance with trees moving across the stage, making way for log cabins and a sudden avalanche to appear. However, this theatrical setting does not allow the audience to suspend all power of disbelief. The fourth wall between the audience and the actors is broken at the beginning when Adam Pontipee, played by Sam Attwater, is welcomed onto the stage by a large cheer from the audience, possibly from his fans when he played Leon Small in Eastenders.
While the eldest Pontipee’s singing is not always the strongest, he makes up for it with his charisma and humour, including his no nonsense claims including: “Here today to get me a bride and I don’t plan to leave empty handed”. That bride is Milly, played by Helena Blackman, also well known to audiences after appearing on How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, and her soprano voice is one that truly makes the songs memorable.
Milly soon forms a character of her own where she gains the audience’s sympathy by her impulsive decision to marry Adam, as she thinks she will only have to care for one man, without the realisation there are six more rugged brothers to tame. Through her transformation of the brothers into charming young men, the abundant talent of the young cast shines through, especially from the delightful baby brother Gideon. Played by Jack Greaves, he tries with all his might to court his equally coy bride in a bashful manner.
The huge dance extravaganzas of Stanley Donen’s 1954 film, loosely based on the ancient Roman myth about the abduction of the Sabine women, are captured in the play by the super energetic dancing. The combination of modern dance with ballet dominates the play and overpowers the storyline’s slight hint towards female empowerment explored by Milly’s position as a wife who will not let herself fall into a subordinate position. An alpha female position is one she does gain when Adam starts to sulk as she helps the brothers, but there is a feeling that this could have been explored further amid the song and dance.
It is the dancing which originally made the film a classically loved movie musical after Michael Kidd’s choreography created movement to dazzle viewers among the rugged story of backwoods Oregon brothers living in the wilderness. The unique footwork Kidd incorporated into the film allows the performers on stage now to come alive and entertain, living up to the words of the musical’s Hollywood star, Howard Keel: “The film was magic and it still astounds today.”
The show’s director, US award winning Patti Colombo, creates a performance where the songs and her choreography lift the simple plot and produce a heart-warming feeling to leave with.
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