Peter Ormerod reviews Oklahoma!, presented by Leamington & Warwick Musical Society at the Spa Centre, Leamington
It’s almost getting ridiculous now. Yet again, Leamington & Warwick Musical Society has created a spectacle which is surely the equal of any effort by any non-professional company in the land – and superior to many professional ones, too.
It feels a little patronising to mention that the cast consists of people who are doing this in their spare time, especially as there is no need to make allowances for any of these performances, but it is nevertheless a remarkable achievement by all involved. Director Stephen Duckham, musical director Matt Flint and choreographer Hannah Hampson ought to be immensely proud of their efforts, as should every single member of this outstanding cast. Indeed, much of the exuberance that blazes from the stage may well be attributable to the fact that everyone involved is doing it for the love of it. Not a single second is perfunctory; there is no going through the motions here. Even if the talent were lacking, the enthusiasm would be enough to carry the show in its own.
As it happens, however, the talent is almost outrageously abundant. Chris Gilbey-Smith, a qualified solicitor, has recently turned professional and it’s easy to see why in his winningly spindly and good-hearted turn as Curly McLain, opening the show with a delightfully naive Oh What A Beautiful Mornin’. But on this evidence, most of the cast could junk in the day job and make a living on the stage. Bex Walton proves she is almost as good an actor as she is a singer - and she’s a very, very good singer - in the emotionally brittle role of Laurey Williams. Sally Jolliffe is a warmly no-nonsense and big-voiced Aunt Eller; Jordan Erica Webber aroitly walks the line between worldliness and unworldliness as Ado Annie Carnes; Andrew Thomas richly deserves his time in the limelight as Will Parker, his dancing among the high points of the show; Tom Vickery is frighteningly impressive as tragic oaf Jud Fry, his sun-roasted southern USA accent almost too good, to the point of near unintelligibility; Alex Ross is suitably enigmatic as the hard-to-play Ali Hakim. I could go on like this about everyone on stage: the depth of ability here is astonishing, and continues all the way through the chorus, with even the smallest roles played expertly.
The plot of Oklahoma has never been its strength. It’s essentially a couple of fairly simple love stories against a background of tension between farmers and cowboys and a hint of the changing face of America in 1906. But no one goes to this show expecting deep political analysis or perceptive insights into relationships between men and women. It’s the songs that everyone remembers in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first musical, because they are magnificent. There’s the uplifting, the strange (Poor Jud is Daid), the radiantly beautiful, the heartbreaking, the riotous. It’s all here, played on a set emphasising the state’s big sky and broad horizon, and all that symbolises.
Yes, some of the diction could have been better, but that’s about all the nitpicking I can muster. Just see it, and revel in it.
* The show runs until Saturday April 14. Call 01926 425507 or visit www.royalspacentreandtownhall.co.uk to book.