Oklahoma! Festival Theatre

Away back in 1965, when I was but a slip of a lad, a movie hit our cinemas which, for some reason I was taken to see no less than six times by various friends and relatives. Now, you might think that I would be somewhat troubled by this, but the film in question was The Sound of Music, an epic musical production from the respective keyboards of Rogers & Hammerstein. It’s a musical that doesn’t just chuck songs in for the sake of it. Rather they are an integral part of the story.

But The Sound of Music wasn’t Rogers & Hammerstein s first success in this style, that honor goes to the 1943 Broadway debut of Oklahoma!, a production in which they insisted that singers who could act were cast – rather than the then norm of casting stars who could sing. Not so the production currently running at The Festival Theatre which features faces that should at least be familiar, if not ‘household’ names.

I’m sure I’ve said before in my reviews, that my mother is a big fan of American Musicals and I’ve sat through the 1953 movie version of Oklahoma! at least a couple of times during my childhood; inevitably I viewed this performance with that as my benchmark. And a very good job it did too, although at times the cast did look like they might prefer the space afforded by a wide screen rather than the slightly small looking set they were performing on. The designers on the other hand, did a great job of evoking the feel of the US Midwest in the early years of the 20th Century.

The story is a classic one. Girl – or in this case girls – can’t decide on the man she wants to marry; boys fighting – quite literally – to win the hand of the same girl. And, of course, it all ends happily. Well, with one little twist, but I’ll not spoil it if you’ve never seen the show. Along the way there is the usual smattering of good advice from the older generation, in this case Aunt Eller played by Belinda Lang. And there’s a humorous element too, which was brilliantly provided by Gary Wilmot in the role of Ali Hakim, and Lucy May Baker as the dipsy Ado Annie Carnes; their performances were both wonderfully funny, almost “Carry On” style!

This is first and foremost a musical and the singing from every one of the cast was excellent; I particularly enjoyed Nic Greenshields vocal performances as Jud Fry. The Band too were faultless and, unusually in my recent experience, they were in the Orchestra Pit of the theatre rather than being on or above the stage! If I had a criticism, it would be that I’m not sure if modern body-worn microphones do anything for the sound when used in an auditorium designed to host unamplified vocal performances?

Finally, the choreography was stunning! Originally devised by Agnes de Mille and reinterpreted here by Drew McOnie it was absolutely fabulous. All credit to the performers, their timing, co-ordination and acrobatic skills.

All in all, a very good production of a great feel good story. If, like me, you grew up on these shows, get along and see it.

Charlie Cavaye