Musical Theatre / “Oklahoma! ”, Queanbeyan Players. At The Q, Queanbeyan, until October 29. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.
WHEN it opened on Broadway in 1943 “Oklahoma” was hailed for its seamless integration of song and dance in the development of plot and character. It was the show that paved the way for the modern musical.
For this Queanbeyan Players production, the co-directors and choreographers, Belinda Hassall and Christina Philipp, have resisted the temptation to “improve” the show with directorial flourishes and concentrate on presenting it pretty much as it was conceived by the original creators.
Judicious casting of the leading roles with accomplished singer/actors, supported by a large orchestra and well-trained chorus conducted with authority and admirable attention to detail by Jenna Hinton, provided an often thrilling account of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.
The musical tells the story of farm girl, Laurey (Demi Smith) and her courtship by two rival suitors, cowboy Curly (Nathanael Patterson) and sinister farmhand Jud Fry (Paul Sweeney).
A secondary romance concerns cowboy Will Parker (Ash Syme) and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie (Emily Pogson) who’s having difficulty resisting the welcome advances of amorous peddler, Ali (Andrew Finegan).
Smith and Patterson are an attractive pairing as the young lovers, Laurey and Curly. Patterson has an excellent voice and his almost operatic rendering of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” and “Surrey with a Fringe on Top” gets the show off to an excellent start.
Similarly, Smith possesses a lovely secure soprano voice. Her Laurie is self-confident and assertive, which adds additional nuance to her interactions with Curly, particularly for their duet “People Will Say We’re in Love”.
Emily Pogson gives an outstanding comic performance as Ado Annie, completely nailing her solo, “I Cain’t Say No!”, matching Andrew Finegan with his clever scene-stealing turn as the conniving peddler, Ali, and proving a clever adversary in her duet with Ash Syme as Will Parker, “All Er Nuthin’”.
Emma White gives a warm, confident performance as Aunt Eller, while Paul Sweeney, in one of his best performances to date, provides a chilling antidote to the sweetness and light as the loathsome Jud Fry. Elsewhere Chris Bennie brings impressive gravitas to his role as the town dignitary, Andrew Carnes, while Britt Lewis is engagingly irritating as Gertie Cummins.
Rodgers and Hammerstein have included a lot of dance music in their score for “Oklahoma”. Wisely the director/choreographers opted out of attempting to re-create the original iconic Agnes DeMille dances. Instead they devised their own choreography to take advantage of the capabilities and enthusiasm of their predominantly non-dancer cast.
This worked particularly well for the rousing “The Farmer and the Cowman” number, but not so much for the long dream ballet where the challenges defeated the choreographers, dancers and even the otherwise-excellent orchestra on opening night.
However, this consistently well-sung production, with its attractive costumes, settings, large chorus and orchestra and fine leading performances, not only succeeds in providing a delightfully entertaining evening of musical theatre, it is also a powerful demonstration of what can be achieved by community theatre companies when the intentions of the original creators are respected.
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