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I have a small confession to make – I have never seen Oklahoma! before.  Not the film version starring Gordon McRae, or any other stage production.  My basic knowledge of the story was that it had a character named Curly, who Hugh Jackman once played on Broadway, and that it was a musical featuring cowboys.  I knew a couple of the songs of course, but beyond that…nothing.

However, I do enjoy musical theatre and there seemed to be a lot of buzz about the current production, so I decided to buy tickets, and it ended up exceeding all my expectations.

The basic story revolves around cowboy Curly and a young lady named Laurey (played by Ashley Day and Charlotte Wakefield respectively), who despite acting with hostility towards each other, clearly are very attracted, but first there is the little matter of creepy farmhand Jud (Nic Greenshields), who wants Laurey for himself.

Meanwhile, Will Parker (played by the wonderful James O’Connell) really wants to marry Ado Annie (the equally delightful Lucy May Barker), but has to contend with his rival Ali Hakim (Gary Wilmot), a charming but irresponsible pedlar), who unwillingly finds himself engaged to Annie.

Watching over all the proceedings is the wise and weary Aunt Eller (Belinda Lang), who is a sort of wise-cracking, plain-speaking mother hen to all the younger characters.

I can honestly say that none of the performers put a foot wrong, literally or figuratively.  Day and Wakefield both had beautiful voices and great chemistry together.  Their duet of People Will Say We’re In Love, was fantastic, and Day’s opening song, Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’! was the perfect way to start the show.

Wilmot provided a lot of humour and was ideal for the role of Ali Hakim, and Lang was fantastic – perfectly cast – if virtually unrecognisable – as Aunt Eller.

My two favourite performances of the show came from O’Connell and Barker – the story between Will and Annie captivated me as much as the main story between Curly and Laurey, and O’Connell and the ensemble cast’s performance of Kansas City was a real highlight, with some energetic and wonderfully choreographed dancing, and terrific vocal performances.  I also loved the Act 2 opening number, The Farmer and the Cowhand should be friends.  Additionally, Barker really made the most of Annie’s song, I Cain’t Say No, which was lots of fun.

I was a bit surprised by some of the darker parts of the story – for example, when Curly tries to encourage the intimidating and obsessive Jud to commit suicide.  The dream sequence also had a sinister undertone, but both scenes had some beautiful singing, and the latter also had some incredible dancing, which took the edge off.

A uniformly excellent ensemble cast – filled with incredibly talented singers and dancers – provided perfect support to the main characters, with everyone seeming to get their moment in the limelight during the amazing dance numbers.

The whole audience seemed to love this show, and it was easy to see why.  This performance is definitely an early contender for my favourite show of the year (yes I know it’s only March).  If you are a fan of musical theatre, don’t miss this production.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

 

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