Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is hardly the most adventurous choice of musicals to put on, nor hardly the best. Two previous West End stagings — at the Old Vic in 1985 that transferred to the Prince of Wales and at the Haymarket in 2006 — weren't especially memorable. But somehow putting it on outdoors makes this tale of rustic country life come to a more authentic sense of life. And on the wide, unenclosed stage of the Open Air Theatre, choreographer Alistair David can allow his dancers — some of them positively acrobatic — to let rip with one of the most exhilarating group dances in town during the first act Harvest Social.
There isn't, of course, a lot to the plot, in which seven bachelor brothers seek seven brides to marry — and in a town where men outnumber women 10 to 1, that's not as easy as it sounds. Of course, this being 1850, none of them are identified as gay; that would have solved the problem for at least one or two of them (and no doubt did). But the show's sexual politics are pretty antediluvian; "a woman ought to know her place is behind her man", goes one line, and just about sums it up.
Rachel Kavanaugh's production doesn't nod or wink to such antique prejudices, but plays it straight only to amplify its absurdities, which is dead right. Besides, the women — despite being kidnapped by the brothers to come live with them — ultimately hold all the cards.
And the best tunes. Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer's score, written for the 1954 film and augmented here by new ones added by Al Kasha and Joel Hirshhorn, includes such gems as 'Wonderful Day' and 'One Man', all punchily delivered here, led by the spunky Laura Pitt-Pulford as Milly.
Alex Gaumond also does cuts a dashing figure as Adam, and does well with 'Bless Your Beautiful Hide' and 'A Woman Ought to Know Her Place'. But this is a production which knows its place, too, which is to provide a rollicking summer's night entertainment.
"This is a musical that wins over its audience by charm, and where the plangent beauty of Gene de Paul’s score constantly pulls against the ugliness of the storyline."
Clare Allfree for The Telegraph
"The show, with music by Gene de Paul and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, boasts some good songs. But in the end it’s the choreography, which rivals anything on the London stage, that makes this a musical worth reviving.."
Michael Billington for The Guardian