Music: Richard Rodgers. Book & Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein 2nd. Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs. Beenleigh Theatre Group (Qld). November 16 – December 1, 2018

Oklahoma! takes place outside Claremore in the Oklahoma Territory in 1906. It tells the tale of a farm girl, Laurey (Samantha Paterson), and her courtship by two rivals, the wholesome, clean-cut Curly (Connor Hawkins) and the sinister, frightening farmhand Jud Fry (Lachlan Clark). As is the case in the Rodgers and Hammerstein book musical mode, there is a secondary plot, in this case, impetuous cowboy Will Parker (Josh Cathcart) and flirtatious (“I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No”) Ado Annie (Terri Woodfine). Of course, before the obvious happy ending, there are complications, humour and lots of singing and dancing – and the formidable Aunt Eller.                                                   

Allison Pattinson’s tender portrayal of Aunt Eller worked brilliantly. While giving a nurturing approach to the town matriarch, she still managed to keep the young’uns in line with down-home flavour (plus a sharp tongue), softening Aunt Eller’s edges with irresistible fun.

When it comes to irresistibility, however, the blue ribbon would no doubt go to Connor Hawkins as Curly.  Hawkins has an undeniable presence and vulnerability on the stage. He easily won the audience over within the first few moments of the show as he lustily entered the stage with a song on his lips, “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” — that beloved hymn to the American frontier. Cheeky, fresh-faced and boyishly charming, his million-dollar smile and natural chemistry with Laurey made him the perfect pick for the role. Samantha Paterson sings gorgeously and emotes movingly as Laurey – creating the perfect chemistry for the love story to find its feet as all young loves do.

Lachlan Clark is brilliantly disturbing as Jud, the jilted third wheel who darkens the action; his brooding tenor seems to echo with menace and the lure of the grave. Meanwhile, the comic subplot (Terri Woodfine as Ado Annie, Josh Cathcart as Will, Mike Zarate as the Persian peddler) is handled with lustre, especially by triple-threat Terri Woodfine, whose comic chops and exuberant dancing energise almost every scene she’s in.

While the sets were simple, they were also heavy with fine detail that brought the show together. From the sun changing into a sunset throughout the show and finally, the use of parts of the set throughout the show culminating together to create the perfect finale piece (I can’t say much more or it will give away too much) – the set was perfectly suited and wonderfully designed to give the feel of Oklahoma.

The live orchestra sit in front of the stage, separating the audience between the two realms but brings it all together perfectly. Led by Julie Whiting, the musicians worked cohesively with the cast despite microphone issues (classic Opening Night tradition) and supported the performers so even the back-row didn’t miss out.

There were plenty of bright notes to make this production thoroughly enjoyable — the cast was enthusiastically committed to this well-paced production. It can be difficult to keep the attention of an overstimulated, 21st-century audience with a bygone-era, nostalgic musical like Oklahoma! yet director Mardi Schon’s wise and thoughtful directing choices made such a feat successful. Without a director willing to push a cast into finding the human beings that make up this classic, the show comes off as dated and its characters as silly. Oklahoma! may be many things, but it is not silly.  It’s a show about two young people trying to find each other in a confusing world of emotions, social constraints and misplaced pride – which Beenleigh Theatre Group has portrayed perfectly.

Mel Bobbermien

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