Oklahoma!

Date 16th October 2012
Society Dereham Theatre Company (DTCo)
Venue Memorial Hall, Dereham
Type of Production musical
Director Anna Lawrence
Musical Director Malcolm Crane
Choreographer Anna Lawrence

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Author: Stephen Hayter

Since Mr Rodgers and Mr Hammerstein first unleashed this colossus of musical theatre upon the war ravaged West End in April of 1947, Oklahoma! has become the backbone of the British amateur stage. It appears in most societies back catalogue as often as Cinderella or (a little more recently) Oliver and with good reason. It’s joyous message of young love, cross community rivalry and good triumphing over evil are as relevant today as they were back in post blitz London. The newly named Dereham Theatre Company (formerly Dereham Operatic Society) only have it down twice in their roll of honour : 1967 and 1981 and interestingly enough I hadn’t seen it for a while either.
The Memorial Hall was in fine shape as usual and the set by Scenic Products was everything you would expect. The complementary lighting design from Ashley Cashfield was delivered (along with the sound) by Emotive Sound and Light with little incident, only one radio mic having a diva strop and boycotting the first half. Costumes courtesy of Dereham Theatre Costumes were excellent, with everyone having something that fitted and the hair and wigs accessorised everything perfectly thanks to Yvonne Tribe.
As has been the case with every production of Oklahoma! I have ever seen, the ladies chorus outstripped the male chorus on most levels with Rachael Bird standing out particularly thanks to an energetic and immensely focused performance throughout. Admittedly she was greatly helped by the choreography from Anna Lawrence (with assistance from Jodie Quirke) that was simple enough and engineered, I suspect, around the very limited space.
Amongst the supporting cast there were solid performances from Mark Wells as Ike; Holly Allton as Gerty Cummins and Colin Harris as Andrew Carnes who, on his first entrance appeared to have shot the Duracell Bunny’s entire family!
Ruairi Blake worked hard as Will Parker with his inexperience perhaps showing a little on occasions and Pat Tabor provided the shows backbone in the role of domineering matriarch Aunt Ella. I enjoyed enormously Laura Pirret’s characterisation of Ado Annie and she delivered the “I Cain’t Say No” song with great style. My only criticism would be that along with a couple of other cast members her fast delivery and strong accent made it difficult to catch every word.
As the eponymous bad guy and sexually frustrated farm hand Jud Fry, Jon Bennett was excellent and the “Pore Jud is Daid” duet he did with Sam Greig was my take home song of the night with every ounce of comedy extracted. His characterisation was far less sinister than I have seen previously which may not have suited everyone, but his wonderful singing voice sounded like espresso being poured over ice cream.
Romantic lead is always a difficult job to do in Rogers and Hammerstein’s domain, especially for the girls and as one of their stronger heroines, Brodie Elgood was excellent as farm girl Laurey. Her beautiful eyes shone through every song and her superb singing voice was a joy throughout. Her love scenes with Curly were entirely credible and I believed every word they said as they gazed deep into each other’s eyes without flinching.
Whenever a society announces this title as its next musical there is always a scrum amongst men of a certain age for the part of the pedlar, Ali Hakim. It is simply because it’s the comic lead and written in a way that gives the performer plenty to work with including a great comic song. In a virtuoso performance, Nick Bird proved just how good a part it is with some of the most accomplished comedic timing and delivery I have ever seen on the amateur stage. His characterisation and accent never faltered and his every expression received the appropriate audience response.
I have saved the penultimate paragraph for young (under 21 I think) Sam Greig as simple cowboy Curly, a part that is so bland that it is difficult to have an impact, but my word Mr Greig’s delicate performance was delivered in such an understated way, I absolutely believed he was the character and could not take my eyes off of him. He set his stall out very early with a benchmark performance of “Surrey with the Fringe on Top”, singing and acting to an exceptionally high standard throughout. His various scenes with Brodie Elgood were consistently mesmerising.
My compliments to Director Anna Lawrence for a first rate piece of work and a production that was without doubt the best Oklahoma! I have seen to date. Criticisms were few, perhaps the lack of dancing… but as already stated there is not much room for big routines on this stage and in fairness the fifteen minute ballet scene that closes act one was excellent, even if I have always thought that it is completely unnecessary in what is an overly long first half. This production contained a few new “Innovations” including the projected captions that I loved and some in- house marketing that I absolutely hated!
Congratulations to all concerned and bring on the Panto!
Stephen P. E. Hayter (Regional Representative N.O.D.A District 4 North)