Iona Performing Arts Centre (Savoyards)


Amateur production

Oklahoma! is not so much a musical as an institution. If you’ve ever wondered where all these musicals sprang from, what started it all, you need look no further, for this was the first of the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals and in many ways set the tone of all musicals to follow. First performed almost 60 years ago, it almost single-handedly created modern musical theatre, as other musicians and lyricists copied the free flowing mix of song and story.

In simple terms the story is straightforward: boy (Curly) wants girl (Laurey) and happily she wants him, but both are too proud to admit it. Enter Jud Fry, the competition, who also wants girl, although he’s not so nice a character, and clearly doesn’t stand a chance.

For light relief, throw in a second couple who, seemingly out of naivety, are also having trouble getting together; a travelling salesman (Ali Hakim); and a nosey old aunt (Aunt Eller), who is trying to push the first couple together; and you’ve got a story that still seems fresh 60 years after it was first produced. Much of the credit of this must go to the director, Jo Toia, and the production team at Savoyards, for they have managed to pull off such an energetic and vibrant version of Oklahoma! that you end up tapping your feet along to the music, cheering the hero, and holding your breath as the poor heroine is entrapped in the arms of the villain.

In fact it is a vibrant time for amateur musical societies with a veritable glut of young trained talent to choose from. The cast was as rich and vibrant as the music they were singing, and although on opening night some of the younger singers were a little scratchy, this was probably from nerves, and I would expect this to be ironed out over the run. The cast were well lead by Damien Orth (Curly) whose voice soared across the large theatre space with grace and beauty. This man is clearly a professional and Savoyards did well to get him. However, one man does not make a show, and he was well supported by Kellie Ireland (Laurey), Greg Quinn (Jud Fry), Astin Blaik (Ado Annie), and Christopher Thomas (Ali Hakim) all with professional training of their own. These talents certainly helped turn what could have been a very long three hours into a fun and refreshing night at the theatre.

A big hats-off should go to the choreographer, Lynette Wockner, whose efforts kept the dancing at as high a level as the singing, with the dream sequence near the end of Act One being a highlight of the show. The sets were surprisingly good, adding to the mood; the lighting helpful and at times quite beautiful; and apart from a little feedback during one of the songs the audio was generally good. I can’t be quite so generous with the musicians, who were the weak link in an otherwise solid show. Although musical director Shane Tooley did his best, they sounded somewhat amateurish, particularly when put beside the professional standard singers, which is a shame.

Although there may be better musicals out there, Oklahoma has always held a special place in the hearts and minds of musical theatre performers and audiences. And I imagine there must be a certain burden that comes with the reputation this musical has. Musical theatre audiences will have seen it often enough before that if it’s not up to scratch they’ll know about it. So I am happy to report that the generous applause the production received on opening night was nothing but appreciative, and I was happy to hear laughing voices as the four hundred or so filed out of the theatre. I reckon they must have had as much fun as the performers on stage. The production has a limited run, so book your seats early.

Directed by Jo Toia

Playing at Iona until 2 October 2005: Wed, Fri, Sat 7:30pm, Sat, Sun 1:30pm

Then at the Caloundra Civic Cultural Centre

>From 8 October 2005: Sat 7:30pm, Sat 2pm

Running Time: 3 hours including 20 minute interval

— Glen J. Player
(Performance seen: Fri 23rd September 2005)