Review of Oklahoma!
July 11th 2013

by Sheila Mander, AGSM Hons LGSM Hons
Honorary fellow of the University of Gloucestershire

A warm welcome awaited me when I entered the busy foyer at The Bacon Theatre. The experience of sitting in an auditorium listening to the overture never fails to excite me. The 17 piece orchestra led by David Manifold set the mood and magic of the Richard Rogers’ memorable score.

As the curtain opened I admit I had a negative moment as I saw a wrinkled cyclorama. Is there a difficulty with backdrops at The Bacon? I noticed the same thing last time that I visited. Is it not possible to stretch them?

However my attention was soon distracted by the beautiful tones of Ben Perkins playing Curly. What an excellent start to the show to have such a strong leading man singing that opening number ‘Oh what a beautiful morning’. Ben managed to create a very natural easy-to-read performance of Curly. He showed the conceit of the man overriding his honest affection for Laurey

In fact I felt that Curly was a perfect part to show the extent of Ben’s Singing and Acting ability. Well done.

Perhaps I missed the moment when Aunt Eller reacted to him coming in and then deliberately ignored him, because Tegwin Minett who played the part of Aunt Eller with such strength of character from then on in the production, seemed to be completely unaware of his presence. Had she shown the antipathy she felt about Curly by being more vigorous in her churning, I would have got the message. As it was I felt sorry for her not being able to react to the song in any way.
My mistake, possibly, but the body language needed to be stronger in the beginning. Tegwin, as I say, went on to give one of the strongest and amusing performances of the evening. Her comedy timing was a treat. Congratulations.

Laurey played by Kate Aston Williams
Kate has a beautiful singing voice to match and blend so well throughout the show with Curly. I felt that Kate went a long way to create the character of Laurey and saw quite clearly her mixed emotions as far as Curly was concerned. His conceit inadvertently drove her towards letting the sinister Jud take her to the Box Social.

Her eventual fear of him and need for protection forcing her to admit her love for Curly, that she’d been battling to hide. All these emotions were clearly shown. A delightful performance. Well done Kate.

Will Parker - Jack Overington
A lively confident performance of Will Parker was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. Jack has the ability to paly naturaly and at the same time engage with the audience in an enjoyable manner. There was a good relationship with Ado Annie throughout and Jack played the naivety if his character to perfection. He handled the songs and dances with gusto. Enjoyable performance. Congratulations.

Ado Annie Carnes – Jenna Surman
Here is an excellent singer who also is a great character actor too. Jenna managed to squeeze every ounce of comedy from her role. She was naive, impetuous and loveable. Her scenes with both Will and Ali Hakim were unselfishly played. You won the hearts of the audience and mine too. Well done Jenna.

Andrew Carnes - Colin Bennet
Colin made a good impression on us all as a demanding father. As the judge of the place he entered into the phoney trial without too much protest and so helped to bring the conclusion of the Musical to a happy ending for all but Jud. Andrew has great comedy timing and gave a lively performance of this cantankerous man. Well played.

Jud Fry - Sam Forbes
This sinister character, gave Sam the opportunity to give one of the best performances of the evening. He created the dark quality of this character with just the right degree of subtlety. It is very easy to overplay this part. However, Sam managed to make us believe this troubled farmhand was a real but bitter person.
Sam has an excellent singing voice to compliment his exciting acting ability. His performance was one of the real treats of the whole show. Thank you Sam.

Ali Hakim - Keith Swinford
Keith had the right amount of cunning and a great sense of comedy. His timing was excellent. I was just so disappointed by his lack of a Persian accent as I feel it enhances this character and creates a great contrast in every way to all the others on the stage. However as far s characterisation goes – I could find no other fault Keith.

Gertie Cummings - Jodie Hemming
Jodie, what an irritating character you played! Well done. That laugh will drive any man mad.

Cord Elam - Simon Lewis
This was an excellent performance from Simon, who managed to make his presence felt throughout and played the wealthier farmer well.

Ike Skidmore – Josh Jones
A small part but well played with the right amount of energy and focus.

Slim – Jake Higgins
This was another invaluable performance. The whole contribution made by the smaller parts is what makes an ensemble company work.

Out Of My Dreams Soloists:
Bethany Gilbert; Lauren Poulson; Laura Weston; Rosie Weston.
What a delightful contribution you made to the show. How lucky that Promenade Productions are to have such excellent young voices ‘waiting in the wings’ for their chance to take over the principal parts. Thank you girls.

Chorus of Cowboys and Gals and Farmers & their Wives.
As you may well know, as far as I am concerned the Chorus can make or break a show. Never mind the principals – its the crowd that give a Musical the reality and vitality that it requires. One little pointer for even better performance is to make the dialogue that you speak on a stage a level that, whilst not distracting from the main action, sounds real. Don’t whisper. Well done all of you for a focussed and energetic performance throughout.

Dream Ballet - Josh Jones; Laura Weston; Simon Lewis
So often in ballet sequences the dance is great to watch but the story takes second place. These three actor-dancers managed to achieve both a character-led lyrical and at times threatening dance interpretation of Laurie’s dream/nightmare so well. well done.

Stage Management – Alan Gaskins; Assistant Stage Manager - Phil Sidey

Stage Co-ordinator – Adrian Prewer

All of you worked so well that the show was presented smoothly without a hitch.

Lighting - Pete Richards
I, myself have encountered the problem that occurred in this show. Whenever a principal began to sing the stage darkened. Then a not powerful enough follow spot or spot came up. At the end of each solo the stage would lighten. Try to lift the actual song by bringing up more light on the principal – even if it doesn’t entirely come from the FS. Build into the cue some other light in that area to make sure the intensity of light is apparent. Songs should be a signal for more light with a definite focus. The general states were excellent and operation smooth. well done.

Sound – Ian Toft
I was very impressed with the sound in this show. The balance of the radio microphones was excellent.

Wardrobe – Sue Winrow
As some costumes were hired it doesn’t mean that many hands were not needed to fit and adapt these costumes and I imagine that Heather and Sue and others had a great deal of work to produce such colourful authentic looking costumes. Well done to whoever it was responsible for such a display.

Choreography – Heather M Newman
Heather always manages to use the stage so well. The actual staging of the Musical numbers was always interesting to look at and depicted the mood of the particular event so well. Te ballet was so simply and yet convincingly choreographed. The dance and movement was always fun to watch.

Musical Director – David Manifold
I have the highest praise for both the way you conducted the orchestra and the quality of the singing in this show. David… I think you had a talented group of musicians and singers to start with, but the harmonies and the joy of Rodgers’ music was communicated well. Thank you for the music – as the song goes!

Director – John W Pannett
What a credit to you John that you managed to tell the story so easily with this vast cast. I thought your casting was superb. I always think that good casting is 70% of the job done. However, the final 30% is the hardest work. I was struck by how well the characters came across. The general standard of diction and projection was excellent. Characterisations were clear and contrasting.

I would like to suggest that it would be good to see you embracing the style of production where each scene doesn’t end with a fade or a blackout but the set changes evolve from the actors and stage management together moving the set before our eyes. More costumes for stage management, I know, but so much more interesting. We know what you are doing anyway. Only very occasionally is it necessary to have a complete fade or blackout. Audiences enjoy seeing the workings of the stage these days.

Also encourage the crowd not to whisper but to gauge the volume of their reactions and entries so that they don’t interfere with the action/speech on stage and yet come across realistically. So many productions I see have a lot of whispering in them. In real life we only whisper occasionally. Both of these suggestions do not deflect from the pleasure your direction gave me and the happy audience on the night I attended. Thank you John.

As a general note – I am so impressed with the way John and Heather manage to attract such a large talented cast of all ages. Promenade Productions are a very healthy company and as far as I can see, a very happy one. Congratulations for creating the atmosphere in which that can happen.

Sheila Mander AGSM Hons LGSM Hons
Honorary fellow of the University of Gloucestershire