Review - Oklahoma! still has that special something
Chloe Makiol and Joshua Thia as Laurey Williams and Curly McLain. Photo by Dom Henry.
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book & Lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Robbie Parkin
Iona Performing Arts Centre
85 North Road
Season: 22 June to 6 July. Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (07) 3893 4321.
Oklahoma! is full of light-hearted verbal sparring (and sometimes fisticuffs) between the cattlemen and the farmers, comedy in the form of the other two ‘star crossed’ lovers, Will Parker and Ado Annie Carnes, and her dalliances with Ali Hakim, a Persian peddler, because she just can’t say no.
It’s a romance based on a play Green Grow the Lilacs and adapted to a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein that first opened in 1943. It is set in a western Indian territory just after the turn of the 20th Century and prior to Oklahoma becoming a state. The story follows Curly McLain, a handsome cowboy, and Laurey Williams, a pretty farm girl, who to everyone else are obviously in love with each other, but Laurey keeps denying this fact to herself. So much so, that she accepts the villain of the story, Judd Fry’s invitation to go to the box dance, because she doesn’t believe Curly’s story that he has hired a surrey for the night to take her.
Judd, is the hired farm hand on Laurey and Aunt Ella’s farm, but he has mistakenly taken Laurey’s kindness during a bout of sickness to mean something more than it was and has decided that Laurey is ‘his’ girl and will do whatever it takes for that to occur. Laurey, of course, has no such inclination towards Judd, thinking him quite creepy, and gets herself into quite a curly situation.
The show began with the bright and breezy, Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’ sung by Curly (Joshua Thia), set to a backdrop of very tall corn, a white farmhouse with a porch, washing on the line and a fence and water tank at opposite sides of the stage. This quickly moves into The Surrey with the Fringe on Top as Curly explains his reason for visiting the farm.
Meanwhile, Will Parker (Tristan Vanyai) has returned from Kansas City where he has won $50 so he can marry Ado Annie (Gemma Hansom), a condition her father demanded. However, Ado Annie has been seeing Ali Hakim (Warryn James) and believes that Ali will make an honest woman out of her. Ali has no such intentions and is only too happy to see Will come back into the picture. But the one thing that these men tend to forget is that every gal has a father with a gun.
Thia and Chloe Makiol were beautifully paired as the young Curly and Laurey, and their voices were well matched in their duet People Will Say We’re in Love. Their chemistry on stage was believable as they bumped their way down to the dramatic conclusion.
Kyle Fenwick as Judd Fry, made a wonderful villain and added the right amount of darkness into the love triangle that was only in his head. His duet with Thia, Pore Jud is Daid, was excellent, showing off his vocal talent to a tee.
A cast member who also deserves a mention is Emma Markham who played Gertie Cummings. Gertie is the young lady who Curly brings to the box dance and has the most ear-splitting laugh imaginable. As Ali puts it later on (after he has been forced to marry her and they are four days into their married life) having had to listen to her laugh made it feel like it was their golden anniversary.
I particularly liked Warryn James’s performance as Ali—he was funny, had all the best one liners and he slinked about the stage for all he was worth. I also liked Kyle Fenwick’s Judd—just nasty enough to be unlikeable, but you felt a bit of sympathy for his situation.
The music in this production was uplifting and leaves the audience with a ‘feel good’ emotion, particularly after the rendition of the song Oklahoma! which is the climax of the show. This song was done exceptionally well by the cast, with two-part harmonies coming into play.
A full orchestra comprised of keys, wind and strings accompanied the singers and the whole experience was led by Musical Director (Jacqueline Atherton).
The choreography (Natalie Lennox) was fun and energetic; and was nicely done to allow even the non-dancer in the cast to be able to boot scoot their way across stage, while allowing those with far more talent a chance to display their skills.
The costume design (Kim Heslewood and Team) was typical American western, full of bright colours for the women and chaps, boots, braces and hats for the men, with slightly different styling to distinguish between the cowboys and the farmers.
The set design comprised of four scenes, the farmhouse scene, the smokehouse where Judd lives, the barn for the dance and the back of the barn. The scenery and props transitioned during blackouts which was quick and seamless.
I really liked this production. And even though it is almost 80 years old, it still has that special something that has audiences clapping in time and toe tapping to the music.