‘Oklahoma’ was beautiful.
The Redcliffe Entertainment Centre is alive with the sound of the Midwest as Lynch & Paterson celebrate the 80th anniversary of ‘Oklahoma!’ with their riveting production, featuring some of the best performers in South East Queensland.
The first collaboration between musical theatre legends, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein III, ‘Oklahoma!’ follows farmhand Laurey and cowboy Curly through their budding romance. Things are complicated when Laurey catches the attention of outcast Jud. Though often considered a light-hearted and uplifting show, ‘Oklahoma!’ certainly tackles some dark themes.
Lighting design by Tom Dodds was remarkable. It served to both highlight and underscore the action on stage in clever and unique ways. The lighting of ‘Lonely Room’ with a side spotlight created an uneasy feeling that enhanced the action on stage. Of particular note was the lighting choices for the ‘Dream Ballet’, especially the use of red lighting to emphasise the nightmarish sections. Dodds’ lighting of the orchestra was expert – during the overture, they were the centre of attention but then blended seamlessly into the background once the show started.
Set design by Samantha Paterson was clever. A ramshackle farmhouse and fencing opened the show, complete with hay bales. Jud Fry’s room gave a snapshot into his lonely existence. The backdrop, made from slats carved into a sun with projections of cornfields conjured up the feel of being on a farm.
Costume design by Alexander Ellem was colourful. The men all sported cowboy hats and chaps with the girls in dresses straight from the prairie. Ninety year old Marj Hook, who has been collecting costumes for her whole life, donated some of the costumes. A special touch that added a sense of community to the production.
Director Tony Campbell used the stage well. His blocking choices in ‘Lonely Room’ were particularly powerful, bringing a much needed stillness and intensity.
Musical direction by Lucas D Lynch was superb. Serving as the conductor as well, Lynch had his hands full with this production and did not disappoint. His command of the orchestra was expert and the vocal choices throughout the show paid homage to the classical roots of the show. The harmonies in ‘Oklahoma!’ was particularly polished and moving.
Choreography by Julianne Burke was fun. The gaiety and frivolity of numbers such as ‘The Farmer and The Cowman’ delivered the feeling of an authentic hoe-down. Fight choreography by Jason McKell was frighteningly realistic and dynamic in its movement. The actors involved in the fight scenes did a tremendous job which left audience members on the edge of their seats.
Connor Hawkins played Curly as a sensitive, yet proud cowboy. His sincerity shone through on stage, along with his rich vocals and convincing acting.
Keiarn Chesebro was a very assertive and empowered Laurey. She matched well with Hawkins and their scenes together were sweet.
Travis Holmes and Kate Retzki formed the comic duo of Will Parker and Ado Annie. Retzki fully embraced the whimsical role and brought a vivacious energy to the show. Her rendition of ‘I Cain’t Say No!’ was heartwarming and funny. Holmes’ comic timing and wholesome portrayal of Will Parker saw the pair become a crowd favourite.
Jake Lyle as Jud Fry was faultless. His command of the brooding, dark villain brought a heaviness to the show and stopped the frivolity in its tracks. His menacing presence served to unsettle the audience in a convincing way. Lyle and Hawkins’ duet ‘Poor Jud is Dead’ was both dark and beautiful – their voices blending perfectly as the harmonies soared. This was followed by Lyle’s solo ‘Lonely Room’. The song was easily the standout of the night. Lyle’s vocal command of the melody was exceptional. His powerful operatic voice filled the theatre as the pain of his words shone through in his acting. The audience was truly privileged to witness this outstanding performance that will not easily be forgotten.
Jackson Wecker was the comedian of the show as Ali Hakim. His characterisation and comic timing was spot on and a lot of laughs were had by the audience at his expense. Chelsea Sales nailed Gertie Cummings squeaky voice and irritating laugh and, when paired with Wecker’s Hakim, the pair were easily the most annoying, yet hilarious couple on stage.
The ensemble were utilised throughout the show to great effect. ‘Oklahoma!’ was a particularly memorable ensemble piece, with harmonies and singing in counterpoint. The sound of the full company singing together was very well balanced and polished. The title song of the show is easily one of the highlight’s and Lynch’s handling of the musical direction and the ensemble’s execution did not disappoint.
Lynch & Paterson’s 80th anniversary production of ‘Oklahoma!’ was a toe-tapping trip to the Midwest, which conjured up an authentic Southern feel. The production balanced the script, which is both comedic and very dark, expertly to create a show that was dramatic, funny, uplifting and at all times entertaining.
‘Oklahoma!’ performs until Sunday, 26 February 2023 at Redcliffe Entertainment Centre. For more information visit their website: www.lynchandpaterson.com
Photography by PIF Productions