Review: Oklahoma!

Oklahoma! by Stage Experience

Grand Opera House, York

Till Sat Aug 6 @ 7.30pm, Sat matinee @ 2.30pm

£18.90

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Oh what a beautiful evenin’. Oh what a beautiful show…

What can you achieve in nine days? Few could match the Stage Experience cast and crew who fashioned an astonishingly professional production of Oklahoma! in that terrifyingly short time.

From the first bars of Oh What A Beautiful Mornin’ till the last “a-yip-i-o-ee-ay” of the title tune this was a rip-roarin’, barn-stormin’, gun-totin’ spectacular. The first production of Oklahoma! ever staged at the Grand Opera House, future versions will struggle to match its infectious energy.

Telling the story of romance, rivalry and hoedowns in cowboy country at the start of the 20th century, Oklahoma! isn’t overburdened by plot. What it does have is homespun American charm and a handful of classic showtunes, the first Rodgers and Hammerstein penned together.

Curly imagines the Surrey With The Fringe On Top with Laurey (Caitlin Calgie)
Curly imagines the Surrey With The Fringe On Top with Laurey (Caitlin Calgie)

Under the tireless direction of Louise Denison, this adaptation is full of vim, humour – and some top-notch singing and dancing.

In Conor Mellor as Curly the show has a leading man with the requisite twinkle, and a mighty fine singing voice. His sparring with Laurey – played with an affecting mixture of feistiness and vulnerability by Caitlin Calgie – never loses its engaging chemistry.

Sophia Bonini puts in a fine comedic performance as Ado Annie, the girl who “cain’t say no”. Many of the big laughs are generated by her TOWIE-like misunderstandings of the workings of the real world.

Ado’s interactions between super-keen suitor Will (played with great zip by Reece McMahon resplendent in dazzling white boots) and reluctant pedlar Ali Hakim (Luke Wilby showing adept physical and verbal comic skills) are a highlight.

Will (Reece McMahon) leads one of the energetic dance numbers
Will (Reece McMahon) leads one of the energetic dance numbers

Will shares a moment with Aunt Eller (Alexandra Mather)
Will shares a moment with Aunt Eller (Alexandra Mather)

In any cowboy story you have to have a baddie, and Finn East is a brooding, malevolent Jud Fry, the loner who forces his affections on Laurey and meets a sticky end.

These clashing forces are kept in check by Aunt Eller. Alexandra Mather pulls off the neat trick of convincing as an older woman who belies her years, a matriarch as quick to fire a gun as she is to dispense a fireside aphorism.

The principals are supported by a terrific ensemble, who performed with the sort of polish you’d associate with a show midway through a long run – rather than on its first night after less than a fortnight’s rehearsals.

There were some tremendous dance numbers, ranging from the boisterous barn dance which opens Act II to a balletic and shape-shifting dream sequence. And, with its flashing fiddles, you could only marvel at the talent and spark in the orchestra, under musical director Adam Laird.

‘A-yip-i-o-ee-ay’
‘A-yip-i-o-ee-ay’

Although dated in some of its characterisations, and a touch on the long side, Oklahoma! still rattles along like a fringe-topped surrey heading down to the valley, thanks to some purdy tunes and a hugely impressive cast.

Thanks to their infectious exuberance by the end we are all ready to don our best spurs and take a whirl around a sawdust-coated dancefloor. So saddle up and mosey on down to the Grand Opera House, partner…