Saturday 13 July 2019

13/07/19: Oklahoma!, Dame Alice Owen’s School, Hertfordshire

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical is handled brilliantly by the Year 7, 8, 9 and 10 talents at Dame Alice Owen’s in a production that’s full of colour and energy.

The plot is fairly straightforward: farm girl Laurey Williams (Lydia Littlejohn) has to choose between two suitors: kindly cowboy Curly McLain (Oliver Hurrey) or troubled farmhand Jud Fry (Jake Mitchell). A few minor sub-plots aside, that’s pretty much it.

The songwriting (of which the most famous example is “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’”) is brassy and cheery. It lacks the emotional range and melodic invention of the same composers’ work in The Sound of Music. That said, the skilled 20-piece orchestra and all-singing cast make the very best of the source material. The kids’ assured (but never precocious) stage presence is impressive and they sustain an atmosphere of high spirits throughout. Several extremely well-choreographed, highly balletic dance sequences see them wheeling around the stage with remarkable grace and fluidity. There are a couple of lovely tap-dancing sequences and a well-managed fan dance. Large, ambitious ensemble scenes are also coordinated perfectly, utilising every inch of stage space in the Edward Guinness Hall.

Comic relief came from smooth-talking Persian peddler Ali Hakim (Anish Shah) and the flirtatious Ado Annie (Mia Dacosta), who both exuded charisma.

On the down side the amplified sound was a little muddy and this – combined with the Oklahoma accents – made some of the dialogue a little difficult to hear.

The only other failing was that the first half lasted for nearly one-and-three-quarter hours, which was simply too long. The second half was much shorter, so I wonder if the lengthy, symbolic dream sequence might have been better positioned after the interval.

Those points aside, the cast miraculously overcame the limitations of a fairly creaky old musical and turned it into something engaging, witty and romantic. The uproarious audience response and sincere outpouring of goodwill at the end was more than well deserved.