Rodgers and Hammerstein
Martin Dodd for UK Productions Ltd by arrangement with Josef Weiberger Ltd on behalf of R&H Theatricals of NY
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, and touring

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A full house at The Lyceum thoroughly enjoyed this highly energetic performance of Oklahoma!. There was undoubted pleasure in re-visiting familiar numbers: Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin', The Surrey with the Fringe on Top, People Will Say we're in Love and, of course, the title number.

The singing and dancing from the whole company was extremely accomplished; Marti Webb gave a powerful performance as Aunt Eller; Mark Evans was a convincing and delightful Curly; comic elements were ably represented by Joseph Pitcher as Will, Michelle Crook as Ado Annie, and particularly Vas Constanti as Ali Hakim. Julian Woolford's set proved highly adaptable, suggesting community-made, clapboard buildings in fields where ' the corn grew as high as an elephant's eye' and the sun shone endlessly.

Despite the energy of the cast and the familiar music, the long opening scene began to drag a little, while the love interest was sorted out. The two-dimensionality of the characters (nothing to do with the cast) and their dull preoccupation with finding a partner for the box dance palled pretty quickly.

But the performance caught light in the Smokehouse scene, where suddenly we were dealing with something much more theatrical: a complex and dangerous character in Jud Fry (superbly played by Pete Gallagher), a sub text of jealousy and resentment, and dramatic irony, beautifully expressed in the Poor Jud is Dead song. At last, a character we could engage with at a real level. Is there a kinship with Lennie (Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men), written in 1937?

The musical sits uncomfortably between three dates: 1931, the depression in America, when Lynn Riggs, a part-native Cherokee, wrote Green Grow the Lilacs, the play on which Oklahoma is based; 1942, when Oscar Hammerstein wrote the libretto, at the time that US troops were deployed in WW2 to fight in Europe and Asia (not surprising, therefore, that the piece trumpets an idealised 'apple pie' nationalism); and 2010, when our attitudes to gender representation have changed radically since the 1940s.

OK, it's a bit of joyful, well meaning fluff with lovely toons. But, from a current perspective, the representation of women is unacceptable. The girls are either flirts, prick teasers or sluts; they play the field and can't recognise a good man when they see him and they get their come-uppance, like Laurey in the dream sequence where she is raped by Jud. Of course, Will is going to have to put up with Ado's serial unfaithfulness, and Ali Hakim is going to have to put up with his wife's hideous cackle after a shotgun marriage, but again these are negative representations of women.

These comments are in no way intended to diminish the accomplishment of the performance I've just seen. I wish to applaud the capability and energy of everyone in the cast, the terrific choreography (I really liked the ripple effect, when a movement was passed down the line), the excellent musical accompaniment and the superb dancing, athletic and balletic (especially the men). I don't think it would hurt to knock 10 minutes off the second half. So many false endings! It is such a physically demanding show, and I was beginning to detect that the fixed teeth smile was getting hard to sustain.

"Oklahoma!" continues at The Lyceum until Sat 24 July.

Helen Nugent reviewed this production in Manchester

Reviewer: Velda Harris

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