Gallery: Preview - Oklahoma, Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society, Ipswich Regent, to April 16
This was a relatively slick run-through. The were a few issues, mostly technical; the occasional mic failure, the door to Jud Fry’s smokehouse proving particularly stubbon as people tried to get in or out. All things that could be easily ironed out, that’s what dress rehearsals are for.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration, Oklahoma broke new theatrical ground when it opened on Broadway in 1943 with songs being tied far more to the action and carrying the story along than before. For those not familiar with it, it’s a love story between cowboy Curly and farmgirl Laurey set against the backdrop of the rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys in turn of the 20th Century America.
It’s not one of my favourites. Very much a show of its time, it’s a little too colourful, cartoony and full of yeehaw, thigh slapping and convenient plot resolutions for me. I prefer something a little grittier and it would’ve been nice to see the award-winning company take a bit more risk in that respect.
This version, in part, injected some of that earthiness via Nathan Cant’s portrayal of farm hand Jud Fry who jealously covets Laurey. It’s probably the best take on the character I’ve seen in a provincial production. It was a nicely balanced turn; I actually felt a little sorry for him as Curly goaded him during the Poor Jud is Daid number.
Overall it’s a very good show with confident performances throughout and fantastic songs you can’t help but tap your foot too.
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The vocals were particularly good, perhaps the strongest I can remember. Sian Naylor as Laurey and Andy Gledhill as Curly particularly impressed.
The scene stealer for me was Chloe Brown as Ado Annie, a whirlwind of naivety, feistiness and flirtation. Played out in front of an actual audience, I think the comedic love triangle between her, cowboy Will Parker (Michael Haywood Smith) and peddler Ali Hakim (Owen Berry) will go down a storm.
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The elaborate set allowed the cast to make full use of the Regent’s limited space and the lighting was stunning.
I had just two problems. The first concerned the stage hands. An effort had been made to dress them in wild west attire, but more could be done. I found myself taken out of the story as they moved things around.
The second was the ballet dream sequence. It was beautifully choreographed and performed by the principals, usually replaced by dancers. It was well acted too, but it went on too long. The show had licked along at a great pace until then and I felt it wasn’t a great way to go into the interval. But I applaud them for trying something new.