Seldomly deviating far from the familiar Golden Era film musical, the corn grows just as high in Julian Woolford's new production of the 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein hit.
Jane Austen amidst the haystacks, the story follows the social graces and social conflicts of the Oklahoma territory cowboys and the farmhands, all romantic rivalry and red ribbons. It follows the furtive romance of cowboy Curly and headstrong Laurey, the problems they create for themselves on the rocky road to love and the at times sinister goings on of life between the corn husks.
A genuine leading lady of musical theatre, Marti Webb's voice has matured beautifully since Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote "Tell Me on a Sunday" especially for her, lending itself perfectly to the belting vibratto of the role of Aunt Eller. Her accent is perfect and her delivery of the Mid Western dialogue charming.
Mark Evans's commanding Curly is excellent. His strong, rich vocal, particularly on numbers such as "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'", epitomises the romanticised Old Western masculinity without losing a connection with the of the content of the lyrics. Evans performance in Oklahoma! consolidates his status as a lead worthy of carrying a show in the West End.
Gemma Sutton's Laurey trips lightly on her feet as she delivers a sweetly operatic performance. She excels in the productions lengthy ballet interlude, bringing the first act to a close and the audience to its feet.
There is not a weak player in the production's supporting cast. Laurey's supporting girls singing as sweetly as a row of flowers in a Disney cartoon and Curley's cowboys shake like the rattlesnakes in one of Aunt Eller's folksy, Mid Western similes.
Whilst Michelle Crook's Ado Annie is at times cartoonish, her zany performance as the girl who just can't say no is charming and Pete Gallagher's Jud Fry makes an incredible villain, a snarling, animalistic tower of obsession which never betrays the underlying tragedy of this social pariah. The comic turn of the night is Vas Constanti's peddlar, Ali Hakim, who revels in the stereotype and earns a well deserved exit applause.
We all know that cowboys and rustic farm hands should not prance and dance outside of a barn raising celebration. Chris Hocking's tight choreography has gone some way in defusing the outmoded, over-enthused kick, ball, heels of such grand, 1940s musicals. The men still dance like the town drunk is firing rapid shots at their feet but it is with a certain ruggedness, all angular arms and proud backs.
Though Julian Woolford's set is at times sluggish and changes dependent on the old-fashioned cloak of a black out, it serves its purpose in its exteriors, whilst David Howe's pastel lighting captures the beauty of a gently setting sun.
You're doing fine, Oklahoma!
- Scott Purvis