MusicalReviewSouth East

Oklahoma! – Festival Theatre, Chichester

Writers: Rodgers and Hammerstein

Director: Jeremy Sams

Reviewer: Kimberley Knudsen

Some seventy-odd years on from its opening this version of Oklahoma! stays true to the original production and is probably all the better for it. From the opening number sung beautifully by Laurey, played by the delightful Amara Okereke, all the way through to a triumphant finale the audience is kept thoroughly entertained by the vibrancy of the music, cast and choreography.

It’s a relatively simple story, girl has to choose between two suitors, but as a musical was groundbreaking in its day as it was novel to have songs that formed part of the plot rather than existed alongside it. It seems odd to think that originally the title song wasn’t included and was only added after some mixed early reviews. Whilst the work may be a little long you’re never far away from a classic musical moment, The Surrey With The Fringe On Top, I Cain’t Say No, Oh What a Beautiful Morning and of course Oklahoma are all delivered perfectly by an admirable cast.

Hyoie O’Grady is an enthusiastic Curly with singing to match his bravado as he competes with Jud for the hand of Laurey. Emmanuel Kojo imbues the character of Jud with as much humanity as he can, evoking understanding and even some sympathy from the audience in his ultimately doomed quest for marriage. All this is under the watchful eye of Laurey’s Aunt Eller, played by Josie Lawrence who looks like she’s having as much fun as the audience as she keeps everyone in line.

For a musical like this to really succeed a lot of things have to come together, the material, the cast, the music and the choreography and it’s perhaps the latter of these that really stand out. Matt Cole’s routines are simply outstanding, most notably the pieces either side of the interval. Firstly the ‘Dream Ballet’ running from virginal white to burlesque black and red as Laurey’s dream twists and turns, then after the interval the rollicking barn dance of The Farmer and the Cowman complete with live fiddle, and almost as much fighting as dancing. The company are given an exhausting workout which they manage with considerable panache.

Being over 70 years old there are inevitably parts that feel somewhat out of place now, the relationship between Ado Annie and Ali Hakim, for example, comes across as a little ‘old hat’ but having said that, Scott Karim as the peddler gets a lot of laughs from tonight’s audience without resorting to hamming it up and Isaac Gryn as the bumbling Will Parker delivers an assured performance despite never quite being able to hang on to the $50.

It should not be overlooked that this musical has at its core the story of how people were willing to overlook transgressions if it helped them to look to a brighter future but that’s perhaps for a more seriously intentioned work. If you want to have an entertaining evening full of great songs and dancing, then this is the show to see this summer.

Runs until 7 September 2019 | Image: Contributed

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An entertaining evening

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