Sunderland Empire welcomes Oklahoma! in a new production of the much loved classic musical adapted from Green Grow the Lilacs, starring the West-end and recording star Marti Webb.

The story of Oklahoma! concerns the loves and entanglements of the many people in the farming community of the town. The hero of the piece, Curly, played with panache and swagger by Mark Evans (audible gasps from the group of girls behind me, when he appears bare chested) and his love for Laurey (Gemma Sutton) both of whom are in denial about their feelings and mock each other at every opportunity.

But hiding in the shadows is another potential suitor, dark, brooding and menacing Jud Fry, played with great honesty and pathos by Pete Gallagher.

Oklahoma was the first musical in which the story’s narrative was followed through using the song and the character singing to move the story forward, rather than as an added extra to ‘fill or pad out’ the story as in so many of the early musicals. This is what makes the production work, as it has been firmly rooted in the origins of the earliest productions.

The direction takes on the story and doesn’t try to be clever and thought provoking with plot and sub-plot; the narrative isn’t dissected with a scalpel and placed under a microscope.

What we have here, is a feel good musical that goes right back to glory days of the Broadway musical. Heavy on energy from a wonderful cast who radiate enthusiasm and joy on the stage.

The famous Ballet sequence is reinterpreted and choreographed (Chris Hocking) with the climax of the show alluded too, if not fully ‘given away’, so the tension remains at the end of the ‘drama’.

The music is played well by a small but tightly knitted band although I did feel that the tempo in some of the ballads was a little quick. The music was at times a little loud and at times brash, the singing is boosted with amplification to match, maybe to the detriment of some wonderful singing, but this is early in the run and technical troubles will out.

The audience were enthusiastic throughout and a lot of people went away from the theatre having enjoyed a traditional night out seeing and hearing a musical, an original and a classic.