Oklahoma! Congress Theatre, Eastbourne
Seventy years old, and still sparkling. Oklahoma! is at the Congress this week, and oh, what a beautiful show!
But how do you approach yet another revival? Rachel Kavanaugh’s direction is respectful but not reverential. There is so much that you would never play with, and she doesn’t: the setting is authentic, the central romance is lovely and the protagonists adorable. The songs tumble gloriously one after another, and there is lots of witty dialogue.
But Kavanaugh has plenty to add. From Nic Greenfields’ outstanding Jud Fry she draws a terrifying portrait of brooding, almost psychopathic jealousy. From an exuberant ensemble she coaxes an irresistible life-affirming energy. And in a supposedly male-dominated Midwest community, her female characters are ultimately just as artful and assertive.
Without a big opening chorus, the show dawns, literally, with a beautiful pin-sharp sunrise, and a lone lyrical voice from across the cornfields. Ashley Day’s Curly has a golden voice and a young charm that you just know will capture Laurey – Charlotte Wakefield with a delightful mix of naïve and capricious.
The first act does unfold quite slowly, but there is so much to enjoy that nobody minds. Lucy May Barker is the dizziest Ado Annie with Gary Wilmot’s Ali Hakim a wily foil, and Belinda Lang is the sharp-witted but warm-hearted Aunt Eller.
And then the dancers just flood the stage with the finest Dream Ballet you will ever see – Drew McOnie’s fabulous choreography is all swirls, lifts and dazzling movement.
Under the assured baton of Stephen Ridley the band complements without ever overpowering. You always knew the guys would get their gals, and you will leave the theatre bathed in that bright golden haze...
Timeless and matchless. Musicals don’t come better than this.