The scene was perfectly set as theatre goers were greeted by local re-enactors, the Victorian Westerners, complete with stetsons and chaps, last night at the opening night of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s debut musical Oklahoma!
It’s the tale of cowboy Curly and his girl, Laurey, who fall in love against the backdrop of the creation of a brand new state in mid-west America at the turn of the 20th century and simply teems with the classic ingredients which make up the perfect musical.
The score is one of the best ever composed in musical theatre, with the unforgettable Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’, Surrey With a Fringe on Top, People Will Say We’re in Love and of course the show stopping title song.
The script is witty, pacy and light-hearted and the whole production is a visual spectacle of atmospheric lighting and effective use of props and scenery.
Ashley Day is every inch the handsome hero as Curly, in fine voice and with looks to die for, while Charlotte Wakefield achieves with ease one of the hardest soprano roles in musical theatre and the chemistry between the two is obvious.
Drew McOnie’s choreography is fresh and inventive and brings a much needed modern twist to what could otherwise have become a somewhat dated show. Executed by the exceptionally energetic young cast, the dance moves for the dream ballet sequence in particular are simply stunning.
It was also good to see Sasi Strallen following in her sisters’ footsteps and standing out among the ensemble.
Nic Greenshields as the villain, Jud Fry, almost steals the show with an incredible vocal and dramatic performance, but hot on his heels is Belinda Lang with her unusual portrayal of Aunt Eller.
Simon Anthony and Lucy May Barker are the perfect comedy duo as Will Parker and his girl, Ado Annie, but of course the evening really belonged to one of our best-loved stars, the incomparable, Gary Wilmot, whose performance as the Persian pedlar, Ali Hakim, brought the house down with on the button comedic timing, excellent vocals and perfect delivery. And off the record, you would be hard pushed to meet a nicer guy off stage too.
There certainly was a bright golden haze over the Grand Theatre stage last night and this production is so good you simply “Cain’t Say No!”
Runs until Saturday. 01902 429212 or www.grandtheatre.co.uk for tickets.
By Alison Norton