Is forced abduction really a suitable subject for rollicking musical theatre? That’s the difficult needle Seven Brides for Seven Brothers has to thread, and its combination of jaunty ditties, zany antics and sensational dance numbers very nearly distracts from the darkness at its core.
Almost, but not quite. This is still a show that, in dramatising Stephen Vincent Benét’s story The Sobbin’ Women, loosely based on classical historian Plutarch’s account of the rape of the Sabine women, and adding big smiles and jazz hands, comes dangerously close to glamorising kidnap, assault and insidious misogyny.
The frankly silly story, set in 1850s Oregon, involves a group of brothers carrying women off to a remote ranch in order to avoid fierce competition in the town: this is a society where the fairer sex is scarce, and vital to building frontier societies. Milly, spirited wife of the eldest brother, intervenes and encourages the ruffians towards civilised courtship, while battling for control with her own husband, perennially crotchety Adam.