BWW Review: OKLAHOMA!, West Horsley Place
Oh, what a beautiful evening in West Horsley! Grange Park Opera open their 2018 summer festival season with Rogers and Hammerstein's vintage musical (the first of its kind in 1943), set in the farming heartlands of America.
Directed by Jo Davies, this talented and diverse band of actors and musicians transport the audience to the so-called "sooner state".
The show follows two love triangles: Curly McLain (Dex Lee) and Jud Fry (Phillip Rhodes) both love Laurey Williams (Katie Hall), while Ado Annie Carnes (Natasha Cottriall) must choose between Will Parker (Louis Gaunt) and Ali Hakim (Steven Serlin).
The BBC Concert Orchestra sparkles in the infectiously exciting overture, with the strings seamlessly playing the speedy opening scales. Led by Richard Balcombe, the ensemble brings the many well-loved musical numbers to life.
Lee makes a charming Curly, oozing infectious joy as he plays for Laurey's affections. He dances beautifully in the ballet sequence.
Hall's Laurey has the right balance of stubbornness and yearning innocence, such that her stringing along of Curly does not come across as overly mean. Her soprano tone soars over the orchestra and blends well with Lee's baritone, especially during their emotive duet "People Will Say We're in Love".
Rhodes plays Jud with subtle eeriness, even managing to garner a touch of sympathy from the audience before his particularly sinister characteristics come to light. His powerful baritone mirrors the fearful dominance he has over Laurey.
Cottriall is a laugh as hapless Ado Annie who just "Can't Say No" to suitors who flirt with her. She steals scenes a number of times. Gaunt grins throughout as poor Will Parker who just wants to get his girl, despite his foolishness with money.
Serlin receives the loudest laughs from the audience as Hakim the travelling salesman. His exit during the "Persian goodbye"/"Oklahoma hello" scene receives rapturous applause.
Claire Moore triumphs as no-nonsense Aunt Eller, commanding the room - be it breaking up a fight in the dance hall, repairing farm equipment, or auctioning off picnic hampers.
Francis O'Connor's set cleverly combines farm machinery with the landscape, particularly through an eye-catching tree made of a whole manner of rakes and spades. The extensive use of corrugated steel sheets as walls however, results in clunky movement of set pieces at times.
Andrew Wright's choreography is thrilling and incorporates many aspects of Country Western dancing. The Dance Hall scene is a particular highlight with lots going on. The flowing skirts and other costumes by Gabrielle Dalton ground the piece in its era and move well with the choreography.
Bruno Poet's lighting design beautifully paints sunsets across the back of the stage and makes good use of matching colours to characters to switch the atmosphere during the ballet, e.g. menacing red when Jud is on stage.
This production of Oklahoma! is a fresh and exciting take on a classic and is a treat for the eyes and the ears.