Oklahoma! | Harvest Rain

Overture, curtain, lights, this is it... 

Curly bursts onto the scene with a vibrant rendition of Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ and all my childhood memories flood in with the force of a cattle stampede. I didn’t realise, up until that musical moment, how great a role Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! has played in my own personal history.

Hands up who doesn’t know at least three songs from this pivotal musical? Pivotal, I say, as Oklahoma! was the vanguard for musicals that followed: Oklahoma! was the first American musical of its kind, flipping musical comedy convention from what it was to what it is now. 

Before Oklahoma! most musicals focused on songs, trying to fit a plot somewhere inbetween music to attempt a cohesive show with story and music. Rodgers and Hammerstein (clever lads) broke these conventions and developed character, story line and even moralility issues through their words and music: the story being paramount and the music and words being a vehicle for character development and plot. Clever lads indeed, as Oklahoma! bursts onto the stage, as relevant now (moral conduct and human expectation issues) as it was when it was first produced for stage in 1943.

Enough with the musical history lesson: meanwhile back at the ranch, a whole lotta hootin’ and hollerin’ is goin’ on. Aunt Eller (Val Lehman – what a powerful force) oversees the romantic antics and push n’ pull between Curly McLain (hunky Ian Stenlake who melts the women in the audience) and feisty Laurey Williams (lark personified Angela Harding). The comic banter between these two in the age old love-oh-war is classic, with so many witticisms I could barely record them quickly enough between laughing, writing and straining to hear the next pearler before the audience either clapped or laughed loudly again.

Commenting on Curly’s bowlegs “couldn’t stop a pig in the road”, Laurey walks out from the ‘homestead’ past Aunt Eller, claps eyes on Curly and says, “oh, I thought you were somebody.” The banter, thrust and parry is kept up throughout the show, revealing musical comedy at its best. 

Each part of the story unfolds within these timely, ear-catching and wonderfully rendered songs that I had sung along with since my voice formed. The Orchestra swings into The Surrey with the Fringe on Top and I smile at my companion, mouthing the words “pigs n’ geese n’ chicks oughta scurry,” until she gives me the death stare! I don’t care, I am in hog heaven!

The orchestra, might I add at this point, is awesome with every nuance, beat, surge, lull (not too many of those) and heartbeat metred out to perfection. So many wonderful songs, all portrayed with musical flair (take a bow Maitlohn Drew) with the orchestra strategically positioned above the stage set, everpresent and part of the overall cast. Clever staging, clever lighting and a seamless production over all.

Speaking of clever staging and seamless production, Tim O’Connor (producer and director) should also take a bow as this production has come together over a mere three weeks of rehearsals! Unbelievable considering the quality and professionalism within this production. 

Curly and Laurey are wonderfully paired, the electricity between them convincing: the dynamic between performers sublime. The audience waits with anticipation for the unveiling of the next familiar song, lapping up the honey voices, the creamy delivery and the wicked wittiness that flows throughout the entire performance. Nobody misses a beat with energetic vibrancy de rigeur from go to whoa! 

Matty Johnston as Ali Hakim: what can I say? This young burgeoning star is a born showman, holding the audience in the palm of his hand (as all good peddlers must). He has charisma, control and a convincing character so watch his space! Some of his titillating delivery: “Marry her? On purpose?”; “Only one wife? He’s a bachelor!”; “Every daughter has a father with a gun...” 

Andy Conaghan as Jud Fry, moving and intense, plays the ‘baddie’ and how good is his bad? Commanding performance with a voice that can strip rust, Jud Fry’s role deals with similar issues facing disenfranchised lads of today: the suggestion of suicide as a way of getting some attention, Poor Jud is Daid, still ringing in my ears, with the Rodgers and Hammerstein slant on this contemporary issue, “his fingernails have never been so clean”; “I sat by myself like a cobweb on a shelf...” Obviously some things never change. 

Every character in Oklahoma! is the epitomy of what that character should be. Only three weeks of rehearsal, can I mention this again? Each star must have come so prepared, lines down pat, character in check, turning up for rehearsals ready to work. There is no other way a production of this calibre could have come together without a crew in love: love of the theatre company; love of the profession and love of performance. It shows through every song, movement, arrangement, choreographic point, lighting, stage design, costume design, sound production, orchestration and navigation. 

A show of this magnitude, seamless and cohesive, shows dedication and attention to detail. This is a happy troupe and being Harvest Rain’s first fully professional musical theatre production, well, I am gobsmacked at the quality and frankly, thrilled to bits that Oklahoma! is their first musical of choice. Many a New Day indeed...

Harvest Rain presents
music by Richard Rodgers | book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II | based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs

Director Tim O’Connor

Venue: Concert Hall, QPAC, South Bank, Brisbane
Dates: 17 – 20 Apr 2013
Tickets: $55 - $100
Bookings: www.qpac.com.au

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