Spa Centre, Leamington, until Saturday (April 14)
Reviewer – Peter McGarry
THERE’S a bright golden haze on the theatre. It could be mistaken for nostalgia.
The show, after all, is an evergreen. Indeed, they don’t come much greener. But think again. This is no gratuitous wallow in sentiment, coloured by lots of happy old songs.
Oklahoma! has not looked so fresh and sparky on stage in a long while. Director Stephen Duckham, delivering the goods for Leamington and Warwick Musical Society, has taken the little brown maverick and turned it into a full-on, romping, stampeding spectacle of a creature.
Several hugely positive factors have ensured the success this time round of the golden oldie which has been delighting musical lovers for 75 years. While traditionalists would probably be content to remain in the western wagon wheels rut, Rodgers and Hammerstein would surely have been pleased to see some of the dust shaken off their old war-horse and a fresh vitality injected.
Great credit must go to choreographer Hannah Hampson for providing some terrific company dance movement. This also embraces the dream ballet sequence beautifully performed by Charlotte Cochrane, which has been skilfully trimmed and tightened to become a more integral part of the whole instead of the usual overlong interjection.
Then there is the rebirth of heroine Laurey as a gutsy, jeans-clad farm girl rather than the chocolate-box sweetie of old. Pint-sized Bex Walton breathes fire and energy into the character, bringing new life to old classics such as People will say we’re in love.
The latter is a stand-out duet with Chris Gilbey-Smith whose commanding Curly grows stronger by the minute in terms of both vocal and acting prowess. Together these two achieve a fine chemistry.
Equally refreshing is Sally Jolliffe’s Aunt Eller, who provides subtle and well-rounded vitality rather than twangy homespun cliché. Other principals fail to ignite, though Tom Vickery’s Jud Fry would benefit from less accent, more clarity.
Musically, with Matt Flint at the helm, the tunes sound as good as ever. With a partial nod to one of the lyrics, they’re certainly doing fine….Oklahoma, okay!