By Isabella Fraser
Oklahoma! is known not only for being Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first musical outing together, but also as the first to be made as a musical play; the beginning of a fruitful partnership. Despite this piece being over 70 years old – it first opened on Broadway in 1943 – the music holds up well. It is surprising to realise how many of the songs that appear are so well known that the fact they are in Oklahoma! comes as a revelation in itself. While the storyline about a young couple in the early days of the state of Oklahoma is slight, there is enough in there to connect the songs and dances together to bring a heart-warming conclusion.
The strength of any musical comes from its ensemble and the team in this production work well together, with the Box Social dance a standout in the show, although the bale dance in the dream sequence was equally engaging. The verve of the live band in particular complements the liveliness of the musical score perfectly.
With an impressive transforming set – the wooden structure has elements that come out and make other pieces, a clever use of the set. This is shown from the very beginning when the way in which the cast move the centre pieces of the set into place is so interesting that you forget you are watching this through a transparent screen until it lifts for the opening number.
Highlights are comedy performances from Belinda Lang as a funny, dry-witted Aunt Eller, James O’Connell as the hapless Will and Lucy May Barker as flighty Ado Annie. Nic Greenshields as Jud, the creepy stalker-like farm hand, adds the right note of menace into the sole darker character shown in the piece, with Ashley Day, a good contrast as the lead, happy-go-lucky Curly, who is Jud’s rival. Day has charm and a powerful voice, which more than does justice to these classic tunes.
This touring version is technically very well done, but conversely, this is where the production loses its impact, in that the technical excellence seems to forfeit the emotional connection to some of the storyline and song lyrics. In doing so, the energy of the piece falls flat at key moments. Nonetheless, this is a time-honoured piece of musical theatre history and a slice of old-fashioned charm. You will come out of the theatre humming show tunes that you did not even realise you knew.
Oklahoma! runs until Sat 25 April at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh at 7.30pm, with matinees Thurs and Sat at 2.30pm. Running time is approximately 2 hours 35 mins, including intermission.