Oklahoma! is a classic tale of love, hardship and jealousy—interspersed with a death, two marriages, a kangaroo court… and references to the oncoming wave of modernity. A 1940s musical, set in the American ‘south central’ State, and based on a 1931 play, might not appear to be something that would entertain a contemporary crowd. But Oklahoma! is an all-round musical entertainment, peppered with songs that are familiar to modern audiences (possibly due to the large number of revivals, and to the success of the 1955 film).
The plot centres on the annual town picnic. A fundraiser for the yet-to-be-built local school, the much-anticipated event creates opportunities for dancing, flirting, and matrimony. Ado Annie (Gemma Hansom), Laurey Williams (Chloe Makiol), and Gertie Cummings (Emma Markham) are three of the local girls who are deciding on who they wish to marry. Laurey and Gertie are both ‘sweet’ on Curly McLain (Joshua Thia); Jud Fry (Kyle Fenwick) and Curly are competing for Laurey’s attention; and Ado Annie Cain’t Say No as she tries to decide between the exotic charms of Ali Hakim (Warryn James) and the love-struck Will Parker (Tristian Vanyai).
Oklahoma! is a ‘musical play’ in the truest sense; a story told through speech, song, dance, and comedy. The orchestra and performers worked well under the baton of Jacqueline Atherton (Musical Director), and the production is a visual feast: a sensitively lit and beautifully-created set, with some great costumes, and highly-photogenic blocking (creative team led by Robbie Parkin, Artistic Director).
If you like dance, you’ll love Laurey’s dream sequence (featuring Jessica Boersen and Simon Lyell as the Dream counterparts of Laurey and Curly), and really appreciate the set-piece ensemble numbers (hats off to the full cast and Choreographer Natalie Lennox—from young to old, the full cast really entertained during the song and dance numbers). If musical numbers are your ‘thing’, then you’ll particularly enjoy the duets between Thia and Fenwick, Thia and Makiol (just wait for them singing People Will Say We're In Love) and Hansom and Vanyai—as well as the fabulous harmonies in the full cast performances of the title number. If you are looking for solid dramatic performances, you’ll savour the work of the leads (watch out for Jacqui Cuny’s sensitive portrayal of Aunt Eller, and the shotgun-toting cameos of the hard-working fathers). And of course everyone will be thoroughly entertained by the indecisive Hansom, giggle at James’s long-goodbye, cringe at the toe-curling laugh of Markham’s Gertie, and love Vanyai’s recounting of his experiences in the big bad city of Kansas.
The show does have its darker side, centred on the unfortunate Jud. Fenwick created a highly-believable, frustrated, misunderstood and lovelorn outsider—a perfect foil to the ‘hero’ figure of Curly. Pore Jud is Dead was a definite highlight of this production—with superb vocal and dramatic work by Thia and Fenwick.
The audience got a lot for their money (the Film and Broadway shows have generally run for around 150 minutes, including any intervals, but this show is advertised at 2 hours 45 minutes plus an interval). This reviewer attended the Preview, and it may be that my personal (short) wish list will be addressed in the run. I am sure that the Savoyards cast and creatives will up the pace just a little, and perhaps move toward 2.5 hours (plus interval). Occasionally it was a little difficult to hear all of Makiol’s contribution, and perhaps a little less of the TV meerkat in Ali Hakim’s first half will also ensure that all of the comedy is more accessible. But that’s what a Preview is for. I look forward to hearing that Oklahoma! has been another sold-out success for the Savoyards.
Verdict: A visual and aural feast - particularly with the superb vocal and dramatic work by Thia and Fenwick.
Audience tip: 2 hours 45 minutes (plus a 20-minute interval), and note the advisory (suicide references, staged fight/death, ‘gunshots’, and limited smoke haze). Oklahoma! has only 8 performances (the Show opens on 22 June and closes on 6 July). Tickets may still be available at The Savoyards website $50 ($45 10+ Group, $47 Concession, $28 Junior). Arrive early, as there is plenty of parking and lots of space in the foyer for drinks before the show. Seats in row I & J might be preferred (or H for those requiring mobility assistance), but all seats appear to provide an excellent view. It is always worth buying ahead for a Savoyards production, so make a diary note as the final production for the 2019 season is the much-anticipated Boy From Oz (tickets for performances in September & October are available from 14 August 2019).
The reviewer attended the Friday 21 June 2019 Preview (7:30pm).
Roger & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! Music by Richard Rogers, Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on the play "Green Grow the Lilacs" by Lynn Riggs. Original dances by Agnes de Mille. “Oklahoma!” is presented by permission of Origin™ Theatrical on behalf of R&H Theatricals.
Picture Credit: Savoyards Musical Theatre (Christopher Thomas)