‘Getting to know … Oklahoma!’ The Musical’ was originally a play by Lynn Riggs, called ‘Green Grow the Lilacs’. This was the first musical to be developed by the Academy Award winning team of composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II; it went on to win dozens of major awards.
Rodgers had previously worked with Lorenz Hart, and since 1920 had produced over two dozen musicals including Rose-Marie (1924), The Desert Song (1926), Show Boat (1927) and Pal Joey (1940). When Hart became an alcoholic, Rogers joined up with Hammerstein. Rodgers preferred to set completed lyrics to music and Hammerstein preferred to write a complete lyric before it was set to music, and so an ideal magical combination was formed.
When ‘Oklahoma’ opened on Broadway in 1943 (yes, this year is its 75th Anniversary), the show ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances; a record beaten decades later by ‘My Fair Lady’. The 1943 ‘Oklahoma’ tour took US $15 million, which in today’s money is the equivalent of US $450 million ($600 million Aussie dollars).
Shockingly, after one version of ” The “Dream Ballet” had a sinister, sexual tone and ended with Jud dragging Laurey away to be raped, Rodgers and Hammerstein personally oversaw the making of the 1955 film to prevent a repeat of this digression.
The first Decca recording of the show comprised six 10-inch, double-sided discs in 78 RPM format.
The first UK performance, in 1947, was delayed by one day, as the ship carrying the scenery from America, become bogged on a sandbank.
20 years ago, Hugh Jackman played Curly in the London production.
This action packed, 70-minute, Bel Canto Performing Arts youth production – supervised by Janene Zampino – can be seen at The Old Mill Theatre, Corner of Mends Street and Mill Point Road, (opposite the Windsor Hotel), South Perth, on Friday and Saturday evenings at 7.30, until 21st July. Both Saturdays have matinées at 2.00 pm.
Justin and Katherine Freind created Bel Canto Promotions twenty years ago, to expertly train youngsters 10 yrs.+, in Musical Theatre techniques – Singing, Acting, Jazz and Tap. This family show stars no less than 40 talented young performers, aged from 10-17 yrs.
The scene: Oklahoma Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906.
The stunning set: design by Rhiannon Walker, was of a crumbling farmyard. The rear wall was a full-sized screen with quality projections (Blake Jenkins) of the corn fields and night sky. John Woolrych’s excellent lighting design was operated by Katherine Freind.
With 40 youngsters on the stage, I was amazed at their smooth entrances and exits – no backing up on the stage as they queued to leave. Slick organisation and training by the stage manager Kelsey Zampino and her helpers, Orlando Tompkin-Drew and Angelina Newby.
Cowboy Curly McLain (Blake Jenkins) is looking forward to the day ahead, when he bumps into a farm girl, Laurey Williams (Sarah Ganon). They tease each other, whilst her Aunt Eller (Yasmine Caldwell), a respectable community leader, looks on. That night at the Barn Dance, there is to be an auction of lunch baskets, when the man who wins each basket, will get to eat the lunch with the lady who prepared it.
Curly asks Laurey to go with him, but she refuses. He then offers to take her in the finest ‘Surrey’ carriage money can buy, but not realizing that he really has already rented such a rig, again refuses. However, a lonely, weird and violent farm hand, Jud Fry (Michael Phillips) is obsessed with Laurey, and so also asks her to the dance. She accepts to spite Curly, although she is afraid of Jud.
An unschooled cowboy, Will Parker (Ryan Boultbee), has returned from his trip to Kansas City, where he won $50 at the fair. Now he has enough money to marry the flirtatious, gullible Ado Annie (Ariannah Tilli), but unfortunately, he spends all the money on gifts for her. Will also bought a gift for Ado Annie’s father, Andrew Carnes (Jordan Cirillo), who would be much happier to see his daughter marry Curly.
Later, Ado Annie confides to Laurey that she has been dating a Persian peddler, Ali Hakim (Toby Crestani). Laurey purchases a ‘magic potion’ of smelling salts (actually laudanum) from Ali.
As Laurey and her friends (Kady Scott, Chloe Pibworth, Ashley Elliott, Kaitlin Sonnendecker and Bella Freeman) prepare for the social, a farm girl with a hideous laugh, Gertie Cummings (Sienna Freeman) flirts with Curly. Laurey tells her friends that she does not really care about Curly. Carnes on discovering Annie with Ali Hakim, forces him to agree to marry her. Curly goes to the smokehouse where Jud lives to talk with him, suggesting that since Jud does not feel appreciated, he could hang himself, and everyone would realize how much they care about him.
After the smelling salts, Laurey falls asleep under the influence of the opiate, and dreams a dream ballet sequence of what marriage to Curly would be like. At the social, during an upbeat square dance, the rivalry between the local farmers (Rowan Marley, Aaron Caldwell, Declan Marley and Denver Havercraft) and cowboys (Lucas Travaglione, Adrian Menner, Matthew and Christopher Jorritsma) over fences lines and water rights leads to fighting.
Will any of the women find their ideal man to marry?
The Ensemble and dancers included Jasmine Young, Jasmin Chamberlain, Isabel Lally-Barnard, Ariana Cleaver, Cadence Smythe, Rhianna Abu Lashin, and Jordan Mears.
The kids’ chorus included Tahli Redgwell, Tiffany Ramsey, Imogen Ogg, Sophie Reader, Francesca Postma, Tamara Wolf, Grace McCarthy, Hannah Keppler, Eloise Keppler and Azia O’Brien.
The cast – many in their first major production – were expertly directed and mentored by Katherine Friend; and the singers had their singing skills and delivery taught by Musical Director, Justin Freind. Most of the lead singers had an easy couple of octaves to their range, and delivered with passion. The magnificent leading lady, Sarah Ganon, is still only 14 yrs. old and yet has a superb voice and advanced theatre stage skills.
The musical orchestration, which was by Robert Russell Bennett and John Higgins, was played by a full orchestra, then the backing disc supplied by the copyright production company.
There were a few comical moments such as when Sienna laughed with her ear-piercing screech, and when she was devastated by the loss of her true love. More humour when Bronte and Anneka McLennan swooned over Curly.
This show may be described as a Youth Production, but it has ALL the qualities of a major show starring adults. It has fine singing, great music, memorable songs, amazing costumes and superior scenery. Although this much-loved musical is in the top ten ever written, it demands a full range of talents from the cast, and so tends to be staged only once or twice a decade. So take the chance to catch this high-quality musical for ALL the family. Even the kids will recognise some of the many great songs.
The perfectly delightful choreography by Matilda Jenkins had the cast perform a waltz, tap routine, high kicking, ballet and square dancing. With some performers as young as 10 yrs. one would expect confusion and several out of step, but this totally focused cast were magnificent. They knew what to do, when to move, they had beaming smiles and great charisma.
I would happily watch it all over again tomorrow. Magic from highly talented teenagers.