Oklahoma! opened last weekend to a full house of loyal supporters of the Production Company, celebrating the first show of the 20th anniversary season. First performed by the company in 2005, director Chris Parker (who played Will Parker in 2005) brings back the nostalgia, romance and Wild West to the Arts Centre Melbourne for 11 shows only.
Performances by an all-star cast of Australian superstars were energetic, uplifting and warm. Anna O’Byrne is a shy but strong operatic delight as Laurey Williams, firm with Curly, caring and considerate of her friends and just a delight to watch overall. Simon Gleeson as Curly is at his most kind, caring and charming, with all the heart and warmth to melt butter in the Arctic, despite playing a character who does nothing but harass a girl who’s already turned him down. Despite this, he turns on the charm non-stop and completely fills the stage with his presence and his huge voice. The two together bring out the chemistry, spunk and heart of the two lead characters.
The stellar cast continues with Robyn Nevin as Aunt Eller, Bobby Fox as the ever moving, ever enthusiastic Will Parker, and Elise McCann shines as Ado Annie. McCann is bubbly with brilliant comedic timing and Fox’s dance moves light up the stage, with Nevin’s gruff candor in ‘The Farmer and The Cowman’ shining as a memorable opening to Act 2. Ben Mingay’s throbbing baritone is unforgettable as the brooding, creepy Jud, who despite the darkness in his character, allows his voice to shine through completely.
Each song and entrance of the cast is welcomed with rapturous applause, as most of the songs in Act 1 most theatre goers will know, such as ‘Oh What A Beautiful Morning’, ‘People Will Say We’re In Love’, ‘The Surrey With The Fringe On Top’ and of course, ‘Oklahoma!’ which brings Act 2 to a close.
Choreography by Amy Simpson in her Production Company debut was fresh, fast paced and percussive, driving the story along and filling the vast State Theatre at the Arts Centre. The stage, set as a corral yard/ wild west wagon frames the band, who never miss a beat under Guy Simpson’s musical direction, orchestral services manager James Kempster and orchestra leader Zoe Black.
Despite being an energetic, upbeat and friendly show, the show has dark content that may require a content warning for some before they view it – it tackles sexual harassment and assault, bordering on rape, suicidal thoughts and ideation, victim blaming, and the idea of women as property to be bartered and sold – while reflective of a time long past us, it certainly spurned many conversations post show about how uncomfortable a reminder this can be of the past. Even with these tones, the show still manages to be a positive force with its memorable tunes and overall feeling of ‘love wins’ and ‘everything will be alright in the end’.
The show is a little slow to start, and it’s disappointing to see a company of this calibre miss major microphone and choreography cues, however it is far more impressive to remember that this professional grade show came together in just three weeks of rehearsal time with an incredible cast and crew behind it.
For those who love the classic musicals or are Rodgers and Hammerstein fans, have supported The Production Company from the beginning or are curious to discover their shows, this is a fitting homage and intro to where they have been and where they are going to. Stay tuned for more great things from the company with The Boy From Oz and A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder being presented later this year.
You only have this week to Oklahoma!, with the final curtain of this energetic production falling on Sunday 3 June. Tickets and more details: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2018/seasons/tpc/oklahoma