Three cheers for seven brides

Gala Opera. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
Gala Opera. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
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ANY show featuring the song A Woman Ought To Know Her Place is likely to resonate little with the female of the species in the 21st century.

But if the central premise of the story of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is an anachronism, this week’s stunning, full-on production of the classic musical by Galashiels Amateur Operatic Society is anything but.

The Volunteer Hall extravaganza, which opened to a mesmerised sell-out audience on Monday (and concludes on Saturday), must rank as one of the most assured offerings ever on the local opera circuit. The line between amateur and professional has surely never been so blurred on a Borders stage.

In the society’s first stab at a show with a compelling musical score, immensely difficult dance routines and sharp dialogue, the 50-strong cast excel and send punters home with songs in their hearts and springs in their steps.

Central to meeting this artistic challenge is musical director Jeff Thomson, in his 20th year with the company, who superbly marshals a 22-piece orchestra from the first strains of a Bernsteinesque prelude to the climactic wedding dance.

An even more daunting task, trimphantly accomplished, faced choreographer Marie McCullough whose tour de force is the first act barn-raising social when the eponymous 14 meet for the first time. The sight of the entire company in 15 minutes of roistering excuse-me dances and a fight scene so realistically crafted as to induce winces from the stalls, will live long in the memory.

The tale of rustic courtship is set in redneck Oregon of 1850 when backswoodsman Adam Pontipee makes a rare visit to town to grab a bride – disillusioned waitress Milly. It is only after tying the knot that she realises she has been chosen, not just for love, but as a dogsbody to care for Adam’s six loutish brothers.

She sets about teaching the art of courtship to her unruly in-laws who become smitten with Milly’s six friends when they meet up at the barn-raising. Back home and pining, the boys give in to Adam’s urgings and kidnap the girls, starting an avalanche to ward off their vengeful suitors and lamenting townsfolk.

As the snows melts, so do the hearts of the once reluctant brides and the lynch mob mentality of townsfolk is assuaged when the girls all claim to be the mother of the reconciled Milly and Adam’s newborn child – forcing a reputation-saving shotgun wedding and a happy ending.

It is an oft-used cliche that star players “fill the stage”, but this applies in spades to Ivor Lumsden and Ruth Johnston.

Gala Opera. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Gala Opera. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Lumsden offers not only a huge physical presence as the swaggering Adam but also a voice to match. His warm baritone enriches the show, from the opening Bless Your Beautiful Hide to the aforementioned A Woman Ought To Know Her Place, and he betrays excellent stagecraft, and heartfelt emotion.

Johnston is a revelation as the feisty Milly. Hers is a totally believable characterisation, but it is her vocal performance which steals the show, never more than in her post-nuptial ballad One Man which rises from an Alison Krauss-like stillness to a brio which Gloria Gaynor at her surviving best would be proud of.

Allied to Thomson’s contemporary working of the score, Lumsden and Johnston give a thoroughly modern feel to timeless songs. Both, as Louis Walsh might observe, have great recording voices.

The brothers – Graeme Howlieson, Michael Hyslop, Craig Eaton-Turner, Craig Monks, Alexander Lyons and Joe Thomson (who grabs his chance to shine vocally on Love Never Goes Away) – seduce the Galashiels audience long before they convert their brides-to-be.

And the sassy girls – Sophie Godsman, Carla McColgan, Lisa Watson, Layley Henderson, Andrina MacLellan and Lynsey Anderson – come into their own, expecially in the second act, with confident and creditable performances.

With classy cameos and superb ensemble work throughout, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is, indeed, a marriage made in heaven.

The brides, the brothers and everyone else

The brothers:

Adam: Ivor Lumsden; Gideon: Joe Thomson; Benjamin: Graeme Howlieson; Caleb: Clark Eaton-Turner; Ephraim: Craig Monks; Frank: Alexander Lyons.

The brides:

Milly: Ruth Johnston; Alice: Sophie Godsman; Ruth: Lisa Watson; Martha: Kayley Henderson; Liza: Andrina MacLellan; Sarah: Lynsey Anderson.

The suitors:

Jeb: Andrew Cannon; Carl: William Pearson; Luke: Harry Keightley; Matt: Robert Waddell; Joel: Greig Blain; Zeke: Ewan Wallace.

The children:

Anabelle Lugton, Hannah Magowan, Joseph Milligan and Struan Howlieson.

Indian/lumberman: Richard Jamieson; Preacher: Kevin Winsland; Preacher’s wife: Lucy Thomson; Mr Bixby: Alaistar Waddell; Mrs Bixby: Ev Watson; Mr Perkins: Ken Lamb; Mrs Perkins: Pooee Pitman; Mr Hollum: Neil Johnstone; Mrs Hollum: Shelley Foster.

The townspeople:

Barbara Johnston, Caroline Hardie, Grace Gilbert, Grace Rhatigan, Irene Hume, Janet MacLean, Janette Weir, Julia Noble, Laurie Coburn, Lynsey McEvoy, Nicole Grant, Rachel Magowan, Ruth Magowan, Sara Green, Val Little, Zoe Most and Muriel Johnston.

Production:

Producer and musical director: Jeff Thomson; choreographer: Marie McCullough; rehearsal pianist: Jennifer Montague; constumes: Utopia Costumes Ltd; sound: Dave Keay for A. & R. Martin; lighting: Tommy Combe and team; stage management: I. Sands; stage crew: C. Johnston, B. Dodds, M. Wilson, B. Henderson, A. Owen, F. Wood and B. Aitchison; wardrobe: S. Scott, G. Thomson, J. Brown, E. Forsyth, L. Moore and S. Aitchison; make-up: Jennifer Thomson and team; properties: Sheila MacDonald and Kathleen Macfarlane; audio visual: James Maybury assisted by D. Kaczan; prompts: Sheila Wilson and David Leckey.