It’s been another crazy busy Stagey week. I moved flats, travelled to Chichester, Kilworth, and Dartford, saw five shows, two cabarets, interviewed nine people and had a very early start on Sunday for a day’s filming.
Jeremy Sams and his creative team have delivered theatrical magic in Oklahoma! at Chichester Festival Theatre.
If the overall effect of Oklahoma! at Chichester Festival Theatre is more of a puzzle-play than a lollipop romp, so much the better.
This year Chichester Festival Theatre is taking on Oklahoma! with their usual mix of respect for the piece and urge to find a new viewpoint on it.
An Off-Broadway show with the nerve to charge Broadway prices, the “Bard Summerscape Production of” Oklahoma! plays out like a cynical practical joke on theatregoers. The egregious experiment is a blight on 75-plus years of American musical theatre.
Chichester Festival Theatre’s Festival 2019 has been announced by artistic director Daniel Evans. It includes John Simm & Dervla Kirwan in Macbeth, Hugh Bonneville in Shadowlands & Tim Firth’s first solo musical starring James Nesbitt.
We’ve said goodbye to 2018 — including a look back at some of the year’s highlights and lowlights. Now it’s time to look ahead to 2019 — and offer my picks of the year so far announced.
Social media is buzzing with the news that Hugh Jackman is planning to take his one-man stage show out on tour and reports suggest the stage and screen star will perform four dates in the UK.
Mark Shenton offers the week’s news, reviews, quotes and tweets in theatre from both sides of the Atlantic, including an interview with Sonia Friedman, reviews of Shakespeare in three different abbreviated versions, and a YouTube star appearing on Broadway.
Oklahoma! has an energy that is set to catapult The Production Company onwards for their next 20 years. Lovers of traditional musical theatre must not miss the show at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne.
Shuler Hensley is an American actor who, outside of the theatre world and especially the musical theatre world, is little known in the UK. Currently, he can be found in the Theatre Royal Bath’s Ustinov Studio in the modern tragedy The Whale,
It was the first musical which Rodgers & Hammerstein created as a partnership and is packed with rather more than the usual quota of great and memorable numbers. Small wonder the hairs sit up on the back of the neck, right from the opening notes, as Curly (Kevin MacConnachie) enters with the refrain of Oh What A Beautiful Morning, to banter with Laurey’s Aunt Ella, churning butter on her front porch.
The Landor Theatre has made an occasional departure from its repertoire of well-focused chamber-sized revivals to host an original creation called Devilish. Possibly with an exclamation mark. Like Oklahoma! Only not remotely like Oklahoma! Starting not even from a novel, an anecdote really, in which an angel descends from heaven and is shot down into the melee of modern Britain, Chris Burgess has fashioned the slenderest of stories and a battery of lyrics with easy-listening-to-soft-rock music by BB Cooper.
Ah Oklahoma, another in that list of musicals who have been produced and cast so perfectly in the past (in this case the wonderful National Theatre production that gave Hugh Jackman his big break) that you begin to wonder why anyone would dare attempt it again. But clearly Music & Lyrics – the collaborative effort of a number of the UK’s finest regional receiving theatres – are braver souls than I.
KI YIP I YAY It’s back. Again. But worth the buggy-ride: brightly directed by Rachel Kavanaugh and choreographed by Drew McOnie with athleticism, wit and inventiveness: ballet, ragtime and brawling naturalism (no tap this time) makes that element so striking … Continue reading →
Royal & Derngate, Northampton
Music by Richard RodgersBook and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein IIDirected by Rachel Kavanaugh
Ashley Day and Charlotte Wakefield
There is a traditional charm that pervades the Royal & Derngate’s Oklahoma! This show, the first collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein, is at once dark and glorious but above all, crammed with some of the biggest numbers from the Golden Age of Broadway. And here, on Francis O’Connor’s set that has been cleverly designed to be taken on the road, it is beautifully staged.
Set around the turn of the last century, the Oklahoma!’s book glosses over much of the Indian Territory’s troubled history (the actual State of Oklahoma was not created until 1905). Whilst the legacy of the recently ended American Civil War is roundly ignored, the tale does hint at the vastness of the land that was there to be grabbed, as well as the agricultural rivalries between the cattle rancher and the farmer and all alongside the emerging technologies that were seeing automobiles appear and skyscrapers come out of the ground. Famously though, the story bravely weaves its human interest themes as light and frivolous romance seamlessly segues into the dark and damaged side of our fellow man.
Charlotte Wakefield is a delight as Laurey, the orphaned niece of her aged Aunt Eller with whom she lives on the farm that they own and tend. Wakefield has previous form with Rachel Kavanaugh, having garnered an Olivier nomination in the director’s The Sound Of Music two years ago.
The actress epitomises tough yet cute, with a carapace that ultimately holds a vulnerable soft-centre. Initially wary of suitor Curly’s advances, Laurey is in fact desparate for the love he offers. Throughout, Wakefield’s singing is divine, with her handling of the harmonies in People Will Say We’re in Love proving a gorgeous take on the classic tune. Alongside Wakefield, Ashley Day’s Curly is handsome and well sung , but he needs to dig deeper to earn our sympathy. All too often Day glosses over the nuance of his lyrics, losing much of the cleverly crafted Hammerstein verse. But these are early days for the production, though and there is no-one better than Kavanaugh to coax that little bit more from her leading man.
Elsewhere there is doom and delight from the supporting cast. Belinda Lang is fabulous as Aunt Eller. With no apparent kin aside from Laurey, Eller is the loving matriarch not just to her niece but to her wider community too and Lang nails the fiercely protective loyalty that the old woman shows towards her ward.
Nic Greenshields’ Jud Fry offers a chilling take on the tragic desparate loneliness of a man shunned by the world. As Laurey’s hired hand on the farm, he craves her beauty and there is a true terror and menace in his manner. But in Greenshields’ singing of Lonely Room there is also a profound exposition of a deeply damaged man.
At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Lucy May Barker’s Ado Annie is just so incredibly believable as the girl who sings I Cain’t Say No. Barker shamelessly steals her scenes, but with a performance that deliciously good who cares? Other comic treats come from Gary Wilmot’s exquisitely timed work as peddlar Ali Hakim, whilst James O’Connell’s Will Parker truly gives his all in All Er Nothin and his Kansas City makes for good fun too.
Edging south down the M1 following his recent stints at Leicester, Drew McOnie choreographs in his first ever partnership with Kavanaugh. The flamboyant hallmarks of musical theatre’s wunderkind of dance have been reined in for this is tale, but it still remains a treat to see his interpretation of some of Broadway’s biggest classic routines. McOnie’s work impresses with his movement perfectly capturing the humour of It’s a Scandal! It’s a Outrage in a whirl of chaps, petticoats and bloomers, whilst the ballet sequence that closes act one is truly a dream. Credit too to Stephen Ridley’s 10 piece band. They’ve been well drilled and as the first notes of that gorgeous Overture sound out, they set the tone for an evening of musical excellence.
Shortly to tour the UK, Rachel Kavanaugh’s Oklahoma! is a classic musical, wonderfully performed. Go and see for yourselves, you won’t be disappointed.
Plays until February 28th 2015, then tours