Review – BTC’s Oklahoma: still fresh and a joy to watch
Curly McLain (Connor Hawkins) and Laurey Williams (Samantha Paterson)
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Presented by Beenleigh Theatre Group
Crete Street Theatre
Season: 16 November to 1 December. Booking: beenleightheatregroup.com/booking/ or: 07 3807 3922
Oklahoma is a romance story written by Rodgers and Hammerstein just towards the end of WWII. It is set in the mid-west of America, at the turn of the 20th century, when Oklahoma was still a territory. It tells the story of Curly, a cowman, and Laurey, a farmer’s daughter, who are smitten with each other. Laurey however is making Curly do the hard yards to win her affection. There is also another love wrangle happening between Will Parker and Ado Annie Carnes. And, of course, there must be a villain thrown in for good measure as well in the form of Jud Fry.
Oklahoma was BTG’s 40th Anniversary show, was also their first back in 1978 and was Roger and Hammerstein’s first musical in 1943.
The curtains open during the overture to a completely empty stage and historical photographs and newspaper articles of the devastating fire that burnt down the original town hall, along with photos of shows done by BTG in the last 40 years, are projected on to a large screen. The curtain closes again and opens to reveal a farmyard scene, complete with backdrop of fields of tall standing corn.
The two leads, Curly McLain (Connor Hawkins) and Laurey Williams (Samantha Paterson) were well cast and suited each other on stage as the somewhat one-sided romance finally resolves itself into a happy ending.
The other romantic offering is Will Parker (Josh Cathcart) and Ado Annie Carnes (Terri Woodfine). Will Parker has a bit more work to do to capture Ado Annie as her father, Andrew (Brent Schon) insists on him being worth $50 before he will give him her hand in marriage. Will also has to contend with Ado Annie’s flighty nature of being ‘in love’ with every man she meets. Mike Zarate (Ali Hakim the peddler) was the beau of the moment when Will comes back from Kansas City, and who gets himself engaged at gun point to Ado Annie. This romance also works out in the end for everyone.
One of the funnier characters on stage was Gertie Cummings (Elodie Boal). She has attached herself to Curly, much to his chagrin, and her loud laugh was a hoot. And then there is Jud Fry (Lachlan Clark) who was a standout in his duet with Curly, Poor Jud is Daid and his own solo Lonely Room, where his dark character is revealed. Brent Schon played Andrew Carnes to a tee and was most convincing as the overzealous shotgun toting father making sure his daughter wasn’t taken advantage of.
Connor, Samantha, Josh and Terri all had wonderful voices, which were let down a little bit by microphones not always working, but this resolved itself for the second half. The whole ensemble had great harmony and did all of the songs justice.
The toe-tapping starts almost immediately, as does the irresistible urge to sing along to the well-known songs of Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’, The Surrey with the Fringe on Top, I Cain’t Say No, People will Say We’re in Love, The Farmer and the Cowman, and Oklahoma. BTG ensemble’s rendition of Oklahoma was exceptionally good and powerful.
Not only was the singing good, the choreography (Lauren Conway) was equally up to the task with a lot of boot scooting, old time dancing that must have exhausted the cast during rehearsals.
The costumes were well done – what you would expect if you were watching any Western movie set in that era. The dancers in the ballet scene which accompanies Out of My Dreams where Laurey is dreaming about Curly and it turns into a horrible nightmare with Jud instead, were dressed in cheeky black and red bustiers with bustles.
The stage was simple and rustic, with a little shotgun house complete with veranda that also spun to become a barn, Jud’s smokehouse and a bale of hay or two. Props were kept to a minimum as well, which allowed the ensemble plenty of room to kick up their heels and whoop and holler around the stage.
The orchestra, led by Julie Whiting, was superb as it pumped out song after song and was made up of keyboard, flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpets, French horns, trombone, violins, cello and percussion. The mix of instruments was just right, complementing all the numbers with a cacophony of sound one would expect from that era.
This musical will have been performed numerous times over the years around the world and yet it was still fresh and a joy to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed BTG’s performance and one of the notable things about this show is that the cast were having fun.
There are a couple of original members from the 1978 production still involved in this production, albeit no longer on stage, which is a testament to the camaraderie engendered by BTG over the years amongst its members. If this production is the standard after 40 years, bring on the next 40!