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Starstruck by Seven Brides show

By Margaret Chrystall

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NOW don’t get me wrong, I remember the movie of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS pretty well.

Lots of great songs, Russ Tamblyn’s crazily acrobatic dancing and the fun of the backwoodsy brothers being transformed into husband material.

Entertaining stuff.

But I wouldn’t have said until seeing Starlight Musical Theatre’s production at Eden Court that was my favourite classic musical.

It might be now.

Set in Oregon in 1850, the tale starts with Adam (Garry Black) – eldest of the seven Pontipee brothers living on a remote farm – coming to town in search of a wife.

Well, more of a servant, actually.

But then his head’s turned by hard-working and beautiful orphan Milly (Caroline MacPherson) who spontaneously agrees to marry him, unaware she’ll have his six brothers to skivvy after too.

She teaches the boys manners and dancing skills so they can find their own girls. But inspired by Roman writer Plutarch’s tale of female abduction, Adam encourages the boys to steal away their favourite town girls. But then snow traps them all at the farm over the winter.

Tough times for all. But big issues are resolved – not least Adam taking Milly for granted and Milly understanding Adam’s heroic struggle to fend for his brothers. It doesn’t really resolve the question of Adam being a bit of a sexist pig, but maybe you have to accept that as the difference between 1850 and 2013.

Great casting meant that by the end of the show Milly and Adam, Gideon and all the brothers had become like family.

Caroline MacPherson, Garry Black and Liam MacAskill as Gideon are utterly believable as their characters and have the vocal skills on top to do justice to the show’s music.

And the typical brotherly behaviour needed to make the Pontipee household live – the fights, jokes, teasing you’d get in any family – comes across as totally natural. So, much praise to Pete McKie (Frank), Graeme White (Benjamin) Steven Kelly (Daniel), Roddy MacDonald (Ephraim) and Benedict Donnelly (Caleb).

Goin’ Courtin’ where Milly teaches the boys "mighty fancy dancing" is one of the highlights of the show.

And the fancy dance moves are matched by director Roma MacAskill shifting the action around the theatre.

Heads up: characters don’t always appear from where you might expect ... The stalls with the boxes are also used later in the show (don’t want to give too much away ...).

It was hard not to notice the huge impact made on the show by the versatile orchestra who played a massive role in creating moods and adding to the slick, professionalism of the whole production. Details included the qwaa-qwaa-qwaa of brass signalling comedy, the cowbell effect when the line of brothers entertainingly pass along the crucial volume of Plutarch, a beautiful mournful oboe solo at an emotional lowpoint – and a fabulous bit of banjowork to remind you – as if you needed it – this is rural America.

If I’m honest, the bit I was most worried about before the show was the dancing, as the film sets up some hard-to-match memories – spectacular series of set-pieces and a group of exceptional dancers, including Tamblyn.

But the Starlight production's imaginative choreography, clever use of signature moves for the girls, the brothers and the town boys – and the impressive bench leaps in the scene at the club social – deserve the thumbs-up.

Though some might have fleetingly-spotted the safety wire attached to Roddy MacDonald as Ephrahim when he danced on top of the well, most would already have had their eye on him for his mesmerising moves long before that.

The chorus – including the addition of a couple of youngsters to make the age mix more realistic – were in good voice in performances that were 100% switched-on.

Mind you, there were a couple of post first-night tweaks to be done, possibly.

Some of the scene changes – shifting the impressive sets – left the stage in darkness for a little longer than felt right, though the orchestra kept the music flowing.

The background soundtrack of tweeting birds etc and changing lighting are the almost subliminal aids to setting the scene. But the mightily-impressive falling snow in the second act had loud blowers which you could still hear over the would-be brides, brothers and orchestra in Make It Through The Winter.

And the audience had a little gasp as Adam went to enter the farmhouse just before number Where Were You? and the whole thing gently shifted sideways for a second or two.

But this is a production with heart, energy and talent enough to create its own Seven heaven. And it's a five-star slice of musical theatre not to miss.

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is on at Eden Court, Inverness, until Saturday. More details at www.eden-court.co.uk

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