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Review of Oklahoma!
July 10th 2013

by Frankie Telford
Regional Representative. District 15.
National Operatic and Dramatic Association

The Bacon Theatre Cheltenham
Director: John Pannett
Choreographer: Heather M Newman
Musical Director: David Manifold

The temperature outside the Theatre certainly put the audience into the right frame of mind to be taken to the hot, dusty American Prairie. The opening set of this much loved musical showed Laurey’s farmhouse and the bunkhouse, with picket fence upstage leading to open spaces beyond, with Aunt Eller churning butter. Curly’s opening number ‘Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’ was well sung, but the volume should have built gradually as he approached the farmhouse and ‘surprised’ Aunt Eller, not at full volume from the outset.

Aunt Eller, Curly and Laurey quickly established their characters and held the interest of the audience in the long opening scene. Tegwin Minett, as Aunt Eller, watched and reacted in a ‘knowing way’, to the banter between the other two. In act, everyone had developed good characters, both principals and chorus. Jenna Surman, as Ado Annie, was suitably flighty ending up in romantic dilemmas through her inability to say no, a lovely performance.

Jack Overington, as slow-witted Will Parker, in love with Annie, portrayed beautifully the confusion of having obtained the 50 dollars needed to enable him to marry Annie, but then having spent it on gifts, so once again unable to marry her. He also coped so well with the problems he had with his microphone coming adrift, not letting it impede his energetic dance routine or distracting him noticeably.

Jodie Hemming as Gertie Cummings of course had ‘that laugh’; you felt quite sorry for Ali Hakim eventually having to live with it. Two characters I was doubtful about when they

first appeared was Judd Fry and Ali Hakim. Jud looked far too young to cope with the brooding dark character and Ali Hakim did not, in any way look Persian. They both surprised me me; Sam Forbes as Jud Fry gave a mature performance as the brooding loner, who it is hinted at, takes bitter revenge if he is slighted. He followed the story created by Curly in ‘Pore Jud is daid’ and showed, by his reactions and facial expression that he was totally absorbed. He was menacing enough to make you you believe that Laurey was uneasy to be alone with him, but not too much to make you wonder, if she she felt that way, why she had hired him at all. Good characterisation.

Rightly or wrongly, the expectation created by references to Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler, is of someone with a swarthy complexion; so that the arrival of Keith Swinford with a pale complexion seemed wrong. Once he started it was clear he was relishing the role of the womanising peddler, and brought the character to life,and maintained his accent well.

The part of Andrew Carnes, Ado Annie’s father is often overshadowed by other characters, but Colin Bennett played ‘the backwoods man’ with gusto. Kate Aston-Williams as Laurey was feisty and confident, and sang well. Curly the swaggering cowboy with a soft spot for Laurey, was well portrayed by Ben Perkins and these two created a good rapport. I wish the line about him having curly hair had been cut as his was straight!

All the named characters worked well together and were given strong support by the chorus, and maintained their accents. The choreography had been well devised and was appropriate to the abilities of the cast. The ‘Dream Ballet’ was effective and the opening of the second act was energetic, creating the atmosphere for the ‘Box Social’. There was good attention to detail in costumes and hairstyles. The sets worked well and the scene changes were carried out efficiently.

The lighting for the Opening and the Dream Ballet were effective, but there were problems in other scenes and with the Follow Spot. I am sure this was first night gremlins and would have improved later in the week. Everyone sang the well-loved songs with feeling and good diction.
I felt the orchestra was possibly under-rehearsed, as there several times when singers and musicians were not together, particularly in ‘All or Nothing’. Again, probably first night gremlins.

Director John Pannett had worked hard to develop a well-paced show, which was enjoyed by both cast and audience.