Corn still looking good

Oklahoma!

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

* * * *

THE sun will surely never set on this rip-roaring version of Oklahoma, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical which began a record breaking run on Broadway way back in 1943.

It's as fresh and entertaining now as it must have been when it first hit the stage with its story of love and rivalry between farmers and cattlemen, though no doubt there have been plenty of changes and updates along the way.

This revival is packed with fun and drama, and Chris Hocking's choreography is exhilarating, particularly in the dream sequence and the dancing to The Farmer and the Cowman Must Be Friends.

The leads are top notch, with Mark Evans - runner-up in the BBC series Your Country Needs You - superb as cowboy Curly....he's even had his straight hair permed to suit the role!

There is real chemistry between him and Gemma Sutton, a tiny girl with a big voice, revelling in the role of Curly's girlfriend, Laurey. Their duets in The Surrey with the Fringe on Top and People will say We're in Love, are gripping.

Marti Webb impresses as Aunt Eller, and there are brilliant comedy moments from Vas Constanti (pedlar Ali Hakim), Michelle Crook (Ado Annie) and Joseph Pitcher (Will Parker). A powerful performance, too, from Pete Gallagher as the sinister farmhand, Jud Fry.

Oklahoma! gallops on till Saturday night (Oct 23).

Paul Marston 

Another state line

****

THE omens were not good. For a start the headliner, Marti Webb, was ill and her place was being taken by Alexandra Grierson (who she?) and the first big dance number by the male chorus looked a bit like Wolves' defence rushing out at a corner.

We needn't have worried though. Miss Greirson might not be the name up in lights but she certainly lit up the stage with a sparkling performance and if this were football, Marti might have a problem getting back into the side.

As for the dancers, after a somewhat messy opening number, they seemed to get their feet and timing sorted out and by the time we came to the dream ballet number they were flying.

This was the first Rodgers and Hammerstein musical dating back to 1943 and almost 70 years on the music is still fresh and was being hummed and even sung along with - in a key not too far away - by some members of the audience during the overture.

Mark Evans is a likeable and talented Curly while Gemma Sutton makes a feisty Laurey  and both display fine voices and like Will Parker (Joseph Pitcher) and the flirty Ado Annie (Michelle Crook) we all know they are going to end up together.

Vas Constanti provides plenty of humour as the pedlar Ali Hakim while Pete Gallagher, whose voice comes from somewhere deep in the bowels of the earth was both a sinister and sad Jud Fry. Baddies don't really grab audiences but the applause level deservedly went up when he took his bow at the end.

After a shaky start it all turned out as not so much a beautiful morning but a purty good evening. One little point though, and it seems common with productions set in the USA, The Country Girl being a case in point, words can get lost in the necessary American accents. 

In Oklahoma the story of pioneers in the Indian Territory in 1906 is simple enough to follow but it was not always easy to make out the words. A small point but that hardly spoiled the enjoyment of an old friend revisited.

Roger Clarke 

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