Reviewed by Malcolm Miller
Free–Rain Theatre Copmpany,
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan.
Opening 11th February, 2011.
“Oklahoma!’ is one of those musicals which has joined earlier greats as a show which seems never to lose its popular appeal. Free–Rain’s current production at the Q Theatre succeeds admirably in its depiction of the vigour and passions of rural Americans in the late nineteenth century. A lively orchestra struck the authentic theatrical style under the direction of Leisa Keen. A minimalist but effective set was designed by Wayne Shepherd and left plenty of open space for the cast’s dancers to show off their skills and Lisa Buckley’s excellent choreography. Costumes by Fiona Leach contributed to the feeling of the period and the pioneering environment.
The opening gave us well–loved veteran trouper Barbara Denham alone on stage as Aunt Eller , soon joined by Jenna Roberts as Laurey, Dave Evans as cowboy Curly, and Mathew Chardon O’Dea as the rodeo star who has just won a prize in Kansas City. The songs “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’”, ‘The Surrey With The Fringe on Top” and “Kansas City” soon have the audience thrilled, and they’re followed by “I Cain’t Say No” by Amy Dunham as Ado Annie.
Soon we are delighted by Tony Falla playing the Persian pedlar, Ali Hakim with a mixture of lugubriousness and lust, as he shows off his wares and is compelled by Ado Annie’s father, at the point of a gun, to say that he’ll marry her. A comedic role played to perfection by this experienced performer.
Familiar songs and dancing follow, with gems like “People Will Say We’re in Love” before we meet the villain of the piece, played with tremendous power by David Spence as Jud, the brutish hired help on the farm.
The second act centres around the community’s auction of the girls’ food boxes, the wedding of Curly and Laurey, and Hakim’s escape from the shotgun wedding. The appearance of Jud and his fatal fight with Curly always brings a jarring black note for me to this otherwise purely romantic musical, but its resolution is part of the show and consistent with the whole story.
Otherwise excellent and unobtrusive lighting was spoiled for me by wobbly follow–spot aiming. I know this is difficult, having done it myself, but any loss of aim is terribly conspicuous.
Free–Rain is to be congratulated on this pleasing version of what has become one of the classic musicals.