Oklahoma! performed at The Theatre Royal Nottingham on Wednesday 29th April 2015


Review by Sandra Cooper

For a musical widely reckoned to have ushered in a musical theatre revolution when Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration premiered in 1943, it is amazing that it has stood the test of time, and perhaps with the exception of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Oklahoma! is the most deliciously brainless of all musicals, and has a warmth and charm that endears it to current theatre audiences.

The story itself remains quite simple; young cowboy Curly and pioneer Laurie, tease, flirt and goad each other and otherwise go out of their way to avoid admitting their obvious mutual attraction. But hired hand Jud Fry nurses a much less wholesome desire for Laurie and his obsession starts to boil over into a serious threat. Meanwhile in the comic subplot, cowboy Will Parker tries to prove himself worthy of his sweetheart Ado Annie before her father can marry her off via shotgun to an unwilling Persian peddler, Ali Hakim.

Whilst the story remains the same, this new production has been given a few neat little tweaks by director Rachel Kavanagh, with brilliant dance routines from choreographer Drew McOnie and a timber interlocking set designed by Francis O’Conner, which is the best I have seen for a long time.

Ashley Day cuts a perfectly dashing figure as Curly; a leading man of the old school with his handsome features and fine resonant voice. From his opening strains of Oh! What A Beautiful Mornin’, he had this audience onside. Charlotte Wakefield’s picture perfect Laurey was also a thoroughbred delight, even though she undoubtedly had the tougher role. She has to compete with a larger than life Lucy May Barker as the fickle Ado Annie, the floozy who can’t say no, who when on stage with her prize bull of a suitor, Will Parker played by James O’Connell, the comedy is endless as he tries to save $50 so that he can marry her.

Belinda Lang was in fine fettle as clucking Aunt Eller, who nailed the fiercely protective loyalty that the old woman showed towards her niece, whilst Gary Wilmot was a sideshow treat as the amusing Ali Hakim who slithers out of a succession of accidental betrothals. There was also the powerful performance, full of menace and true terror from Nic Greenshield as the hired hand Jud Fry and whose delivery of Lonely Room managed to portray a deeply damaged man.

Other numbers like People Will Say We’re In Love showcased the divine singing of Charlotte Wakefield, with her handling of the harmonies proving a gorgeous take on the classic tune. There were other memorable numbers such as The Surrey With The Fringe On Top, Many A New Day and The Farmer And The Cowboy which have clearly stood the test of time.

Along with the memorable songs was Drew McOnie’s magnificent choreography, as he captured the humour of It’s A Scandal! It’s A Outrage! in a whirl of chaps, petticoats and bloomers, whilst the ballet sequence that closed Act 1 was truly a dream.

This musical may be over 70 years old, but I defy anyone not to emerge at the end with a great big smile plastered over their face. I am sure this is exactly what Rodgers and Hammerstein envisaged when they wrote this evergreen classic all those years ago. It was just haybales of fun.