Reviewer: Anthony Morris 4 Stars
This musical is a classic – the first musical from Rogers and Hammerstein, that won them a Pulitzer prize. First performed in 1943, now in its 74th year, it is probably older than most of the audience member, which begs the question – how has it survived and thrived all these years and what relevance does it bring to Perth audiences in 2020? The answer? This production is a triple threat – strong characters, great music and modern interpretation.
The production is stellar Black Swan bringing together a cast of talents from across the country. The characters are key to its enduring success and offer the opportunity to “play” it through a modern lens. The lovely Laurey Williams (Stefanie Caccamo) played as popular, independent, self-assured but really a little trapped and alone. The willing Curley McLain (Emily Havea) cast as a female in the most modern twist of this production, a decision that brings a vehicle for the character to explore the eternal optimism, at all costs nature that any girl who woos another girl might need. Hard working, sinister and very troubled Jud Fry (Andy Cook) takes the role to a dark, dark place – questions of domestic violence and mental health come free and fast with this interpretation presented to a 2020 Australian audience. Ado Annie (Laila Bano-Rind) a young girl who is changing and developing into a woman dealing with too many choices, paints a picture that resonates with so many young people negotiating an on-line world with attention, rejection, promoters and haters influencing their journey to happiness.
The remaining cast are set in the traditional support; Aunt Eller (Caroline McKenzie) the clear voice of pragmatism and all that is right in the world, Will Parker (Axel Duffy) naïve enthusiastic IN LOVE suitor to Ado Annie, Ali Hakim (Cameron Taylor) eccentric, exotic and a foil to all that is set-and-forget in rural life, Andrew Carnes (Luke Hewitt) the voice of the tried and tested foundations of family values and prosperity.
The show is set center stage at the Heath Ledger Theatre – the audience also on the stage seated on all fours sides of the square – the audience is therefore participants in the party that takes place in the second act. The country hospitality of the production extends to the terrific hoe-down band who sit with the audience and bring us all into the action.
The set is a simple chip-wood square – maybe inspired by a country dance? The direction is terrific, Richard Carroll has blocked the scenes beautifully as there is nowhere to hide with an audience in touching distance and set in 360 degrees around the stage. With an abundance of props and some ambitious horse and buggy moments we are treated to some very creative design. The most sinister scenes with Jud take place off stage and are beautifully projected into the space – unfortunately the audio was delayed in the live feed which threw the scene a little for the audience.
Backed up by a wonderful band, the songs are the heroes of the show, thanks to musical director Victoria Falconer. On top of that there is a lot of dancing with wonderful choreography including a couple of very special, and at times, campy dream sequences. Axel Duffy as Will certainly steals the dancing scenes with some extraordinary and enthusiastic choreography as he relives his recent visit to Kansas.
Oklahoma! is a vocal challenge – the singing was really stunning especially Laurey, Curley and Jud – a joy to be physically so close to classic familiar show tunes delivered with crystal clarity. The only note I would make is that some dialogue and words were swallowed by the Oklahoma accents – it is really a mouthful and in some moments the actors were struggling to deliver the words at speed.
This mature age show was delivered with great youthful energy and with a diversity message that made it fresh and relevant. The use of a female lead as Curley, colour blind casting, women wearing chaps is not meant to shock or overly challenge the audience or take away from the original content of Oklahoma! – more so it is a nudge to your interpretation of love and relationships with family, friends and community.
Congratulations to the Black Swan team on this triple threat delivering fine acting, singing and dancing for an audience in need of some joy and old school theatre hospitality, oh what a beautiful day!
The season runs until Sunday 20 December on stage at The Heath Ledger Theatre.
Photo credits Daniel J Grant