I walked into the State Theatre with high expectations for Oklahoma based on my previous experience with The Production Company’s work, and they certainly delivered with this production. Being unfamiliar with the play, it was a revelation to hear the songs which I was familiar with in the context of the play. Simon Gleeson plays the part of Curly McLain. Gleesons’ rendition of Oh, what a beautiful morning (a song I had never particularly enjoyed until this point) radiated warmth, and coupled with the simple but effective set instantly transported the audience to Claremont, Oklahoma.
Very simply the storyline of Oklahoma is one of a cowboy Curly McLain (Gleeson) who is smitten with a beautiful farm girl Laurey Williams (the stunning Anna O’Byrne) who lives with her aunt. Curly is not shy about his desire for Laurey. Whilst Laurey is equally smitten with Curly, she is affronted by Curly’s boldness, and is angered by the local gossip about their non-existent relationship. She takes this anger out on Curly.
A secondary storyline is the comical relationship between Will Parker (played by Bobby Fox) and Ado Annie Carnes (played by Elise McCann). Will is blindly in love with Ado Annie, and relentlessly works to secure her hand in marriage, which revolves around his acquisition and subsequent loss, and re-acquisition of fifty dollars. Ado Annie just loves to be loved, by anyone, and of course love in the context of middle America in the early twentieth century results in marriage.
Both of the love stories have an intruder creating love triangles of sorts. For Curly and Laurey the intruder is Jud Fry (played hauntingly by Ben Mingay) the simple yet sinister farm hand. For Will and Ado Annie the love intruder is the shifty Ali Hakim (played by Grant Piro). All the characters interconnect at the box social dance where a tragic (yet not unanticipated) accident occurs. Needless to say, all ends happily for our main love protagonists.
Bobby Fox nearly steals the show playing the part of Will Parker. Bobby’s interpretation of Will was endearing, his playfulness had me in rapturous laughter. He was so convincingly in love with Ado Annie, and held no malice towards Ado Annie for her wavering adoration of him. Fox played a charmingly simple character so devoted to Ado Annie. The audience on curtain call were likewise in their resounding acclaim for Fox.
As the main hero Gleeson was adorable, and his heroine O’Byrne was wonderfully feisty. The vocal performances of the pair were faultless. An honourable mention to the Production Company Orchestra, and Robyn Nevin (who I am most familiar with through the series Upper Middle Bogan as the wealthy uptight mother) for her portrayal of Aunt Eller Murphy. Nevin portrayed the matriarch figure Aunt Eller with perfect comic timing – without the character of Aunt Eller, and the witty performance of Nevin the play could have been unbearably masculine.
Some notes on the play itself, the lack of racial diversity of cast is signature to not only the historical setting of the play, but also the culture of middle America at the time which like Australia whitewashes indigenous culture. I found Oklahoma confronting with the dominant heterosexual roles. For me theatre is exciting when the mainstream is challenged, and my mind keeps wandering to Brokeback Mountain when I think of cowboys in middle America!
Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable comedy/drama musical performed by a cast of true professionals, and I look forward to future works by The Production Company.
The Production Company presents
music Richard Rodgers | book and lyrics Oscar Hammerstein II
Director Chris Parker
Venue: State Theatre | Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 26 May – 3 June 2018
Tickets: $48 – $143