What’s not to like about this smile-inducing Rachel Kavanaugh’s touring production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, packed with well-known tunes, dancing cowboys and jolly characters?
Some of the sentiment of the story of Oklahoma! could raise a modern eyebrow but would be facile with a jingoistic 1940s musical. However, the portrayal of play the show’s baddie, Jud Fry, as someone we feel sorry for as being emotionally disturbed and in need of help rather than a knife in his guts was perhaps unintentional. The fact that Nic Greenshields had a very fine singing voice indeed (perhaps the best) also endeared him to me hugely.
Playing the cute and cheeky if somewhat arrogant cowboy Curley, Ashley Day was the full package from the opening strain of Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin and then quickly followed by The Surrey with the Fringe on Top. He can act, sing, swagger, dance and is handsome enough for the role.
The feel of the entire piece is pioneering, optimistic, hard-working, reasonably moral but hormone-fuelled youthful frontier America. Take away this and the story could be anything from Shakespeare to Donizetti with plenty between: boy wants girl, girl plays hard to get, love rival is in the shadows, the serious couple is mirrored by a comic couple, wise older people comment from the edges, a bit of danger, love overcomes, all ends happily.
Ashley Day has a fine old-fashioned 1940s musicals voice that is perfect and faultless throughout the evening. The role has all the best tunes and rather swamps his love interest, the stroppy, pouty, will-she-won’t-she Laurey from Charlotte Wakefield in their duets. To be honest it isn’t the attention grabbing role as that goes to Curley and then secondly to the adorable girls who can’t say no, Ado Annie, played perfectly by Lucy May Barker.
Simon Anthony stepped into the role of Will Parker and made it his own with another cheeky chappy with this portrayal of the rather thick cowboy who is outmanoeuvred by Gary Wilmot as the sharp dealing peddlar Ali Hakim . Think quack doctor Dulcimer in L’elisir d’amore.
Belinda Lang is splendid as the wise and witty Aunt Eller and Paul Grunert the other older character Andrew Carnes who, in his role as town judge, is happy to dismiss Jud’s killing as self-defence so as not to spoil the nice kids’ wedding.
A brave producer may have thought the time had come to introduce a little more depth to the musical by perhaps casting Jud as a Native American, the invisible inhabitants of what was the Indian Territory until their lands were totally stolen after thousands had already been displaced for the white settlers. The closest we get to a political comment is the fracas between farmers and cattle ranchers and again with some thought we could have some subtle contemporary environmental referencing.
Jud’s feelings of injustice and alienation that become hatred and resentment is in a musical named after the state that produced the country’s worst internal terrorism act, the killing of 168 people in the bombing of a Federal Building in Oklahoma City by a revenge inspired angry man.
But, hey, this is a feel good night out with Drew McOnie’s yee-ha choreography (although I think he was happier with the chaps-wearing dancing cowboys than the frock-clad girls), a functional set that allows for that bright golden haze, starry skies and a slight twist to that purdey carriage.
WMC until July 11. Tickets and details: oklahomatour.co.uk and www.wmc.org.uk
Wales Critics Fund, the organisation that support reviewing across Wales, has one pair of tickets to Barnum (August 11 -15) and one pair of tickets for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (August 18-22) courtesy of Wales Millennium centre. They are available for £30 per pair including a programme. To buy these please email: firstname.lastname@example.org with preferred date for each or for both shows.