|Date||18th May 2018|
|Society||Trinity Methodist Music & Dramatic Fellowship|
|Venue||The Civic Theatre|
|Type of Production||Musical|
|Musical Director||Gerald Hines|
Author: Katherine Hempstead
From the first chord of the orchestra opening up the heart of the audience for the evening's entertainment, the mood was set for this Old time Country and Western Classic, now in its 75th year. A warm introduction was extended in Curley's soulful, deep southern drawl, to the most well known (and perhaps sung) 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning' performed by the tall and broad Oliver Medlicott, but skillfully voiced in song by Mick Wilson from the orchestra pit due to illness. The duo were well matched in this sudden dilemma of the dreaded 'dubbing' scenario, but unless one truely was actively looking for the smallest flaw in timing, the pair were as one. A bravo for pulling this off throughout from the very first scene. As the curtain drew up, we were greeted by an impressive painted backdrop of rolling green fields and picket fences, and a perhaps slightly unstable porchway unable to take the repeated stomping of performers slamming the door. Laurey, played by Charotte Reed, appeared to take delight in teasingly boycotting Curley's boyish advances. With her young complexion and golden curls, she came across with perfect girl-next-door appeal from a hard-working country farm.
There was plenty of camaraderie to be had with good humour from the male ensemble, dressed complete with straw hats, braces, red neckties and boots. Detail even included muddied knees, with each touch drawing the audience into the atmosphere more. Will Parker played by Joe Gray breezed onto the stage, fresh with ideas and inspired by his time in the big Kansas City, with fancy gadgets and new ideas on dancing. The dance number was delivered with a smile and warmth, but perhaps was a little messy in its execution, with a large number of performers of varying abilities causing a few moves to be a little out of sequence. It also took me a few seconds to figure out the lasso sequence; obviously iconic, but even more obviously very difficult to do. Perhaps if the decision was made to include the characters in imaging the lasso as part of a game they were all in on, rather than imagining the lasso was actually present, this may not have lifted me out of the magic of the song.
Ado Annie, played by Ashton Reed, entered the action batting her lashes and innocently flashing her petticoats, unable to stop attracting the attention of the boys. Trailing behind Annie was the almost hapless Ali Hakim, having been given an ear-bashing by Aunt Eller (a steady strength of talent and the characters' moral compass throughout, played by longstanding member Janet Moore), who accidently finds himself engaged to this young whirlwind, who seems to love the man she is standing nearest to at the time. The number 'I Cain't Say No' was playful and carefree, with the two young women as close as sisters (it helps if you are performing with her) as they try to figure out men in general. The following number 'Many a New Day' brought the strength of the female ensemble together, with its light and warm atmosphere, and it was well choreographed to accommodate both a large number of bodies on the stage to appear delicate and dainty, even Laurey in her endearingly scruffy dungarees.
Having been rejected by Laurey, Curley takes the arm of Gertie, played by Natalie Hawkes, with a wonderfully obnoxious laugh and sneer, with laughs and audible cringes rippling throughout the audience. The very few scene changes were quick and completed in darkness to music (except maybe one which seemed to get off to a slightly premature start), and it was in the aptly named smoke house, to a hanging dread in the air as well as smog where Curley goes to confront Jud the farm hand, played by James French. The song 'Poor Jud is Daid' led you into a slightly false sense of security that maybe Jud could be perceived as a reasonable or at least just a simple man who is attempting to woo a young woman he will never have. It had great comic timing and the underplayed humour really worked in this well-balanced duo. But the tension quickly mounted onstage with Jud's continuing one word abrupt answers, his gruff demeanor and soon we felt a real danger in this quickly developing dangerous situation. The ending song to the scene 'Lonely Room' stayed with me - a real sense of this man having spent too much time alone with his thoughts and being wronged so many times has lost his sense of right and wrong. The lighting shift to an intense spotlight with swirling smoke in his anguished face held the audience well. The nightmare sequence was equally as disturbing - with a dancer performing in place of the usual face of Laurey we were used to,(as is tradition) really made the whole scenario that little more fantastical, and showed Laurey all the more innocent with ballet pumps and lighter on her feet. The ladies dressed in stockings and corsets really did make the audience uncomfortable in their exaggerated moves and manipulation of Laurey to become one of them.
Following the interval was a light hearted brawl between 'The Farmer and the Cowman', with the chaos ensuing amidst straw hats and dungarees brought sharply back into order with a single and satisfyingly realistic gunshot delivered into the summer sky by Aunt Eller. The following auction for hampers ramped up the tension, as it became quickly clear that Curley and Jud were not bidding for Laurey's hamper, but really her ownership. The finale of Jud and Curley battling did not hold quite the high tension the previous scenes had promised, but the choreography of knife fights, particularly on a stage crowded full of people is not always easy. Andrew Carnes, played by Paul Osbourne, provided yet another voice of reason in the scorching hazy days in Oklahoma, with real weight in his voice and delivery; you got the idea this his word was final. His accent was consistant throughout, as were they all, and all remained well in focus. The youngsters were well rehearsed, the young dancers particularly could hold their own in a group ensemble, and there was a wonderful family atmosphere emulating from the stage. Deborah Marks as director has remained true to the original content of Oklahoma!, and has kept authentic in style, with well placed humour, comic timing, as well as tension building where needed. There was a well deserved packed audience for this well established and successful local group.