Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Queensland Conservatorium – Performing Arts)
Burke Street Studio Theatre
May 6 – 13
The Queensland Conservatorium’s Burke Street Studio in Woolloongabba is not a great theatre location; the parking is terrible and it is an uncomfortable place to have to wait until the audience’s last minute entrance into the theatre is allowed. However, in the case of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” it all becomes worth it upon entry and hear of the preshow fiddling of its familiar soundtrack of songs.
Presented by its 2nd Year students, this is an imagining true to its 1954 movie musical (and then much later Broadway show) roots. The plot is an adaptation of the short story “The Sobbin’ Women” parody of the Ancient Roman legend “The Rape of the Sabine Women” (rape meaning abduction). And, as stories, go it is pretty absurd (as most musical plots are). In 1850s Oregon Territory, a determined Adam Pontipee travels from his backwoods ‘bear country’ home to find a bride in the lower township, returning with new and unsuspecting wife Millie to the six rowdy younger brothers for whom his has cared since his parents’ passing. Although initially miffed at Adam’s oversight in non-mention of the brood awaiting their return, declaring that she is nobody’s slave, Millie soon bonds with her husband and takes it upon herself to civilise the unruly mob of men towards finding brides of their own. This become complicated, however, when the overenthusiastic brothers decide to kidnap their own brides from their families and beaus in the town.
This is show that is all about its music with a plot crafted to create situations to call characters into song and in which plot and character development occurs courtesy of its choreography and songs. And musically, it is excellent, thanks to the efforts of its skilled orchestra, anchored by Musical Director Trevor Jones on keys. Vocals come together well too, supported by some wonderful harmonies from the ensemble. From the rotating roles of its cast, Clayton Turner and Paige McKay are particularly excellent as an initial Adam and Millie pairing, with vocals that are of great compliment in numbers such as ‘Love Never Goes Away’. Indeed, as the spunky Millie with a store full of dreams, McKay is superb. She hits every note with ease, and the power behind her voice brings a strong-willed femininity to even the lighter moments of songs like ‘Wonderful, Wonderful Day’.
It is not all mournful lamentation, however, with comedy coming courtesy of the brothers’ own interactions and reluctant acceptance of their new sister-in-law. And Act One numbers like when Millie gives the brothers ‘a little feminine advice’ about ‘things you gotta know’ about how to court girls in ‘Goin’ Courtin’ and when, in ‘Sobbin’ Women’, Adam, realising that all the brothers are in love, tells them to follow the example in one of Milly’s books and do ‘like the Romans did with the Sabine Women’ and just take the girls (and a preacher to marry them).
While the lead performances are impressive, the choreography is by far the highlight of the show. Simple staging and practical set pieces make for swift transitions, but the small stage can become easily crowded in ensemble numbers like the final full company shotgun wedding number, ‘Wedding Dance’. Act One, however, is where most of the highlights occur. The spirit at the idiosyncratic heart of the musical is captured to perfection in the scene during which, at a town social, the brothers and girls’ town suitors square off in a rousing challenge dance which ends in a brawl and the brothers’ banishment from the town. There is so much to look at as nimble choreography is executed with energetic high kicks and scissoring legs.
To present a well-known and widely beloved musical such as “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is certainly an ambitious undertaking and one, which, in this instance, is well-realised in its mindfulness of the story’s boisterous comedy and sense of fun. Those who love the movie will have their feelings cemented, while those unfamiliar will probably still leave with at least one song in their head, as is always the resonance of a great musical experience.