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REVIEW: Oklahoma

Review by Markus Hamence – Performance date: Friday 24 May 2024, The Arts Theatre, Adelaide, South Australia

The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of South Australia brings a vibrant rendition of ‘Oklahoma!’ to life at the Arts Theatre in Adelaide’s Angus Street in the city, infusing this classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with fresh energy and heartfelt enthusiasm. As a staple in the American musical theatre canon, ‘Oklahoma!’ demands a dynamic and nuanced performance, and this production delivers on multiple fronts. I settled in for a just over three hour performance…

Carolyn Ferrie and Sophie Stokes

Setting the Stage

From the moment the music rises, the audience is transported to the sweeping prairies of the American Midwest. The set design (Matt Ralph), characterized by its rustic charm and detailed backdrops, effectively evokes the vastness of the Oklahoma landscape. The use of lighting (Matt Ralph also) enhances the mood including three deer antler pendants, transitioning seamlessly from the golden glow of a sunny morning to the dramatic shadows of a barn dance.

Stellar Performances

Lead Performances: The cast’s dedication to their roles is evident, with standout performances by the leads. Curly, portrayed with charisma and a robust vocal presence by Daniel Hamilton, and Laurey, with her sweet yet strong demeanor by Sophie Stokes, create a compelling central dynamic. Their chemistry is palpable, particularly in the iconic duet ‘People Will Say We’re in Love’.

Daniel Hamilton and Sophie Stokes

Supporting Cast: The supporting cast brings depth and color to the production. Cassidy Gaiter as Ado Annie is hilarious, with her playful flirtations and comedic timing, provides many of the show’s lighter moments, while Will Parker’s (Jason Bensen) exuberance and physical comedy complement her perfectly. Jud Fry’s (Fahad Faroque) portrayal is suitably menacing, adding the necessary tension to balance the more lighthearted scenes. Carolyn Ferrie as Aunt Eller portrays steely strength and no-nonsense with perfection and Robin Schmelzkopf as Ali Hakim as the pedlar is naughty but nice and fun to watch. Special mention to James McCluskey-Garcia with his solo spot with ‘The Farmer and the Cowman/Farmer Dance’, it was joyful and well choreographed (Vanessa Redmond). Bethany Eloise, Brendan Williams, Zachary Baseby, Ailinn Baldassi-Winderlich, Lachlan Steiger & Shivawn Young back up and fill the stage with character and engaging energy whether it be acting out a scene or some dynamic vocals. Many I have seen their prowess in other productions, some are new to me, but I am a fan of this fine troupe of artists. Bravo to the entire cast!

Musical Excellence

The music, under the skilled direction of Daniel Brunner as the musical director, plays a crucial role in the success of the production. On second keys is Martin Cheney. A brilliant show by these talented musicians. The familiar tunes of ‘Oklahoma!’ are delivered with precision and emotional resonance. The choreography, particularly in numbers like ‘Kansas City’ and, as previously stated, ‘The Farmer and the Cowman,’ showcases the dancers’ talents and adds to the overall vibrancy of the show.

Direction and Choreography

Director Richard Trevaskis’ vision for ‘Oklahoma!’ respects its traditional roots while incorporating modern sensibilities. This balance ensures the show feels both timeless and relevant. The choreography is energetic and well-executed, with the large ensemble numbers reflecting the sense of community and conflict central to the story.

Jason Bensen and Cassidy Gaiter

A Visual Feast

Costumes: The costume design by Helen Snoswell deserves special mention. The period-appropriate attire enhances the authenticity of the production, from the ladies’ prairie dresses to the cowboys’ rugged outfits. Each costume is meticulously crafted to reflect the character’s personality and social status.

Audience Engagement

The production’s ability to engage the audience is one of its strongest points. The humor is well-timed, and the dramatic moments are handled with sensitivity. The finale, with its rousing rendition of ‘Oklahoma!’, leaves the audience buzzing with excitement and appreciation. The constant chuckling to louder belly laughs were constant from us punters. It is a fun and engaging production.

Final Thoughts

The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of South Australia’s production of ‘Oklahoma!’ at the Arts Theatre is a triumph. It captures the spirit of the original while injecting it with new life, making it a must-see for both longtime fans and newcomers to the musical. The combination of stellar performances, impressive production values, and a clear passion for the material makes this rendition of ‘Oklahoma!’ a standout in the current theatre season.

The Arts Theatre, Adelaide, South Australia
23 May – 1 June 2024

Daniel Hamilton and Sophie Stokes
Daniel Hamilton and Fahad
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