23
Apr
13

Oklahoma

Oklahoma

Harvest Rain Theatre Company

Music by Richard Rodgers

Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

QPAC Concert Hall

17th – 20th April 2013

 

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

 

It’s funny how a good ol’ humdinger of a musical can make life seem less complicated. Collapsing into my chair at QPAC Thursday night; my mind was still stuck simultaneously tapping away at emails and memorizing the French translation of art song. But as a baton rose and the familiar strains of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma filled the Concert Hall, I mentally hit the esc key and took a breath of warm country air.

 

Harvest Rain Oklahoma

Bringing this classic to life are the Harvest Rain Theatre Company, directed by Tim O’Conner. With a line up that includes IAN STENLAKE as Curly McLain and ANGELA HARDING as the headstrong Laurey along with ANDY CONAGHAN, GLENN FERGUSON, MATTY JOHNSTON, VAL LEHMAN, ERIKA NADDEI, CASEY McCOLLOW, STEVEN TANDY and a strong ensemble.

 

This production of Oklahoma sees Harvest Rain transition to the larger scale professional stage and I must say, I think it suits them.

 

Transforming the Concert Hall stage to small town of Oklahoma was something challenging in itself. I had never seen the space extend to more than a cabaret set so I was surprised to see it playing host to a musical, but surprisingly, it totally worked. With lighting by Jason Genwright and a great set  by Josh McIntosh, a sense of intimacy was created, and it framed the production wonderfully.

 

Directed and produced by Harvest Rain’s Tim O’Conner; Oklahoma propels forward with a steady momentum, and the cast manage this pace and energy with ease.

 

Music Director Maitlohn Drew’s approach to the score has vigour and enthusiasm. An onstage orchestra adds to the picture, and I’m sure, feeds the cast with a musical drive reflected in their performance.

 

Likewise, Choreographer Callum Mansfield realises the choreography well; the well known dream sequence was well staged and executed by the cast. I wanted a little more from the grittier moments like the fight scenes and Jud’s possession/attack on Laurey, but in keeping with the era of the piece, it is suitably poised, works well enough and creates some great texture onstage.

 

Taking the reigns on cowboy Curly, Ian Stenlake is perfectly cast. His strong ringing tenor charming, endearing, and testament to the fact he has played this role before and completely made it his own. The onstage chemistry he shares with love interest Laurey plays out predictably, but is nonetheless engaging to watch.

 

Angela Harding as the headstrong Laurey is natural to the stage. There is sincerity and approachability in her light soprano that makes you want to listen; I felt her strengths vocally were clearly in her warm mid-range but she is a performer who gives and gives, and it is a joy to watch.

Angela Harding Just Like You

Love Ange’s performance? Catch her next week in her solo cabaret show Just like you … only different at Brisbane Powerhouse April 27th

 

Erika Naddei was also well cast as the cheekily promiscuous Ado Annie. Having seen Naddei only weeks before in Harvest Rain’s Tell me on a Sunday I knew this was a role that would show off her enthusiastic approach to characterisation and it clearly fits to a tee. With a wonderful ‘twangy’ belt she delivers an Ado Annie that bounces between exasperating and lovable all rolled into one.

 

I do believe essential to any musical’s success is a strong supporting cast and ensemble, and this is something that is apparent in this production. While there were a few little bugbears (inconsistency of accents, lost dialogue, and slightly unbalanced chorus numbers), overall each and every member of the cast was at 200%, which made for great onstage energy.

 

I particularly enjoyed Andy Conaghan as Jud Fry. His solo moment Lonely Room showcased his rich Baritone and his committed delivery fleshed out the tenderness and darkness of the character well. The moment was a welcome relief from the pace of the other numbers although I felt a darker side of Jud Fry could have been developed a little more. I found myself empathising with his character so much I was secretly rooting for him to get the girl (Sorry Curly!); perhaps a little more ‘grit’ might’ve swayed me?

 

Also grabbing my attention was Matty Johnson in the role of Ali Hakim. What a fun and holistic performance. From vocals to physicality, I felt Johnson delivered and enjoyed some great comic moments along the way.

 

Overall, I felt Oklahoma was a triumph for Harvest Rain Theatre Company, and probably one of the best productions I have seen from them in a while. Yes, it is squeaky clean wholesome family fun, but for lovers of Rogers and Hammerstein musical classics, they’re definitely doin’ fine in Oklahoma…. OK!

 

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