‘Oklahoma!’ was boot-scootin’.
Serenading local folk with a beautiful evening of entertainment, Savoyards Musical Theatre will leave you hankering with their latest performance of ‘Oklahoma!’.
Filled with a variety of upbeat musical numbers that’ll encourage toe-tapping and clapping, the production team have presented a ‘cute-as-a-button’ rendition. ‘Oklahoma!’ is a quintessential example of historical musical theatre. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s all-American classic opened in 1943 as a box-office hit, playing for over 2000 performances on Broadway, and consequently launching a golden era for musical theatre.
The story, set in Oklahoma after the turn of the century and coloured by the rivalry between local farmers and cowboys, follows the romance between Curly, a confident and good-looking cowboy, and Laurey, an innocent yet self-determined farmgirl. With the course of love being as bumpy as a surrey ride, the two headstrong romantics, who are equally smitten with one another, never seem to understand each other’s boldness. With the entrance of Jud, a dark and growly farmhand as a potential suitor for Laurey’s affections, things take an unexpected turn.
Playing concurrently to the main plot is another love triangle that dances as the comic relief between the boisterous and tricky cowboy, Will, and the easily wooed, Ado Annie. Enter a peddler man, who travels from town to town with a cultured allure, and Ado Annie is torn between the two.
Director, Robbie Parkin, with the assistance of Vanessa Wainwright, has crafted a charming rendition of the beloved classic. Scenes move along effortlessly, with smooth set changes and a dynamic flow. The action was tightly woven together and well-rehearsed. Musical Director, Jacqueline Atherton, with assistance from Nicky Griffith, has kept a tight rein on the band, and they brought justice to an impressive score. The ‘Overture’ swelled within the Iona Performing Arts Centre, building the excitement among an already eager audience.
Set Design by Tenille Flower was utterly breath-taking. Silhouetted corn corps outlined the back of the stage, with scenery lighting, designed by Allan Nutley, moving the time from day to night, or mood from light to dark. The audience transitioned from Laurey’s house to Jud’s smokehouse, to the Box Social and back again with house facades, conceptualised rooms and detailed decorations. The hard work between each set piece was evident, and the large construction team manifested pieces that made this musical visually stunning.
As Choreographer, Natalie Lennox has played to her dancers and actors’ strengths, allowing each to incorporate their own flair throughout. A highlight was the male ensemble in ‘Kansas City’ who carried actor Tristan Vanyai (as Will Parker) on a bench, to resemble a horse. Lennox was innovative in her use of props and people. She incorporated the ensemble in routines, where she could for boot-scootin’ realness.
While ‘Oklahoma!’ has some incredibly dark themes within its context, it was clear that Parkin’s had opted to focus on the fairy-tale romanticism of the storyline. Within the script, Curly isn’t particularly a wholesome ‘better choice’ from Jud, and in one particular scene, he quite literally tells Jud to kill himself to be better off (‘Poor Judd is Daid’). This moment, which is saturated in pure jealousy, should have instilled shock from its audience, rather than laughter. Parkin’s interpretation of ‘Oklahoma!’ cemented the fact that his version is more family-friendly, coated in sugar, then the sinister elements often brought out in other versions. Although an intriguing directorial choice, it still would have been nice to see the shadier plots explored more.
One thing ‘Oklahoma!’ had for sure, however, was exceptional attention to detail. From Ado Annie not knowing how to spell Oklahoma in the title track, a ladle being used as a judge’s hammer in the court scene, and even cobwebs lurking in the corners of Jud’s smokehouse, it was evident the creative team had a clear vision and they executed the finer niceties with precision.
In terms of performances, ‘Oklahoma!’ had a strong leading cast. Quick to steal the show was Warryn James as the shifty peddler-man, Ali Hakim. James’ incorporated textbook comic timing with a well-rounded characterisation, which he delivered in spades to an adoring audience. His mannerisms, side looks, and quirky Persian accent made him the ultimate con man, who just seemed to find himself on the wrong side of the bluff.
Another standout performance came from Kyle Fenwick as the uncouth, tempered Jud Fry. Fenwick showcased Jud’s disturbing nature while leaving cracks of a misunderstood outsider to shine through. By far, his performance of ‘Lonely Room’ sent spine-chilling feelings of anguish through the audience – a highlight of the entire evening.
As Laurey Williams, Chloe Makiol was vocally captivating and impulsive in her portrayal. Makiol really understood her character with her heartfelt expressions and self-determination. Laurey should be able to easily show and hide her feelings, which sends out confusing messages to Curly. Makiol achieved these traits and really suited the role with her innocence and conviction. At only 18-years of age, it’s easy to see she is in the right industry and has a bright career in front of her.
Joshua Thia played leading man Curly McLain with cockiness, charisma and charm. His portrayal felt light-hearted and sometimes teetered more towards the comical side, rather than Curly’s typical brashness. Even his delivery had a ‘Shrek’s’ Donkey twang, with amusing stand-up comic motifs. While there could have been more variation in his choices, vocally, Thia impressed the audience – especially on the opening of ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.
Providing a lot of laughs, Tristan Vanyai was endearing and playful as Will Parker. Convincingly in love with Ado Annie, Vanyai showcased his affections through Parker’s persistence and an added puppy-eyed expressions. His moments in ‘Kansas City’ and ‘All Er’ Nothin’ instilled rapturous laughter and enjoyment. Utilising his height difference, there were amusing choices that frequented his scenes, whereby other cast members picked up Vanyai and carried him around. These were a nice touch that played to his strengths.
As Vanyai’s love interest, Gemma Hansom delivered a humorous, gullible and flirtatious Ado Annie Carnes. Her portrayal was equally naïve and boy-crazy, as she dealt with her own indecisiveness over who to love. Hansom successfully developed a character with an array of layers, that in turn enhanced the comic subplot. She was doe-eyed, fleeting and the ultimate hopeless romantic.
Jacqui Cuny also shone as the tough community leader, Aunt Eller. Providing a mother figure to Laurey, Cuny came across as sincere and devoted. Walter Lago played a straight-talking, gun-toting Andrew Carnes with finesse, Emma Markham’s laugh penetrated the audience as Gertie Cummings, and Richard Reeve was the stern ranch owner, Ike Skidmore. A huge and skilled mass ensemble filled the additional respective parts and aided several scenes as the citizens of the county.
‘Oklahoma!’ was high-energy fun and the type of classic theatre you’d expect from Savoyards Musical Theatre. Enhancing the underlying themes of community, this unpredictable love-story was presented by a dedicated team of professionals. When everyone comes together, magic can happen – and this is the case for ‘Oklahoma!’. Book your tickets to see a quality theatre production – you cain’t say no!
‘Oklahoma!’ performs until Saturday, 6 July 2019 at Iona Performing Arts Centre. For bookings, visit https://www.savoyards.com.au/oklahoma.