Oklahoma – G&S Society of SA

Oklahoma – G&S Society of SA

We have seen it as a cheesy western with bad accents, we have seen it as a “big” Broadway Production with “big” sets and “big” room-filling orchestras. Unless your power has been out since 1955, we have all seen the movie with those “big” Hollywood feels and definitive performances by Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones and a young Rod Steiger before he won his Oscar. We have seen the live YouTube recording of Hugh Jackman strutting his stuff on the internet. Adelaide’s own Emma Knights has even done it on a country property in 40 degree heat! Oh, we have all seen it or at the very least hummed the familiar tunes, OK?

So, just when you thought you’ve seen it all, along comes the G&S Society of South Australia (“GSSSA”) with a bar-raising interpretation of an old classic fit for a new audience.

Director Richard Trevaskis has gone for the minimalist approach, using flat wooden panelling, some nondescript doors and basic chairs and tables to make sure the cast are all out there relying simply on their merits and talent alone. It was a risk, leaving everything up to the performers to make or break the production. Yet, thanks to the excellent casting, this production of Oklahoma! was impressive and professional. The challenge was both accepted and delivered with grace and style.

Musical Director Daniel Brunner kept the minimalist approach going by using just two keyboards for the musical accompaniment. Daniel and his co-keyboard Martin Cheney showed us the level of sheer technical musical ability they possess by playing the entire two acts on-stage with the performers. Adelaide is fortunate to have such musical talent on show and right up there for all to see, hear and appreciate. Choreographer Vanessa Redmond displayed some of her classic signature moves to ensure the cast looked both busy and natural. The dream sequence was a highlight. Matt Ralph’s flat set design was enhanced by his excellent lighting choices to help the cast deliver the mood effectively.

The show started with some curious design choices both in props and costuming. We were told that the setting was Oklahoma in 1906, yet the first character on stage was wearing what looked like a contemporary “truckers” hat. I am sure they didn’t have blue plastic “eskies” in 1906, and the beer cans looked suspiciously like those of a 21st century North Queensland brew. One of the characters even looked like he was dressed for the wrong show, wearing what may have been better spotted in a production of “The Wedding Singer” complete with sloppy suit with flared disco-pants and frilly shirtfront! Such glaring inauthenticity was so out of touch with the suggested reality, it surely must have been deliberate. I guess the Director was either making a point as to the timeless nature of the message the production transmits, or he was messing with our heads. Probably a little of both! 

Yet, even with all this going on both before our eyes and in our heads, there was the cast, leaving it all out there for the audience to enjoy. GSSSA has once again managed to attract some of Adelaide’s finest musical theatre performers. The consistent quality of a GSSSA show was again poignantly delivered in this very different remake of an old classic. The acting and vocals were superb, while the movement and choreography more than made up for the minimalist set. Indeed, this seems to be the very point. The talent was on show that night, raw and real, each one almost like a tightrope walker without a net.

The performance itself challenged and confronted the audience. One stand out piece was the familiar scene in the smokehouse, where the two main protagonists sing almost flippantly about the positive attributes of one of them hanging himself, and how he would finally be loved once dead. It created an uncomfortable dissonance, with the audience laughing at some places, even though everyone knew it was appalling to do so. Comedic, macabre and confronting, all at the same time. It was excellent theatre.

The two leads played by Daniel Hamilton and Sophie Stokes delivered strong performances befitting the importance of their roles. Daniel in particular gave us an interesting take on the traditional western style hero that “gets the girl”. You first “love” his character but after some observation you realise just how much of a nasty, manipulative so-and-so he really is. The manner in which “Curley” and “Laurey” narcissistically attempt to manipulate each other while using other people as mere objects to taunt was made even more disturbing by the use of the minimalist set. You just couldn’t miss it. Cassidy Gator shone in her role as “Ado Annie”, delivering us a stellar performance as the stunningly stupid but ultimately likeable girl who just cannot say no. Jason Benson was a very likable love interest for Cassidy’s gormless twit, and was a very amusing foil playing a pretty good twit himself. Adelaide musical theatre icon Robin Schmelzkopf (aka “Smacka the Singing Milkman”) was well cast as the beautifully out of place peddler-man Ali Hakim, going from disaster to crisis all by being in the wrong place always at the wrong time. Lachlan Steiger was a capable dance captain, leading the ensemble in some cute western-style numbers. This young man has a lead role in him somewhere waiting to break free, watch out for him in the future. James-McCluskey Garcia was first rate as the shotgun-toting Andrew Carnes.

There were however two runaway performances that stood out significantly. Carolyn Ferrie’s “Aunt Eller” was a superb lesson in stage craft. The challenge to stand out there in front of bare boards and make her character own the stage was impressive. Her bio explains perfectly her experience and obvious talent. Fahad Farooque gave us a deep, brooding performance as Jud Fry. His rich voice and sheer stage presence was awe inspiring. Fahad took over the audience’s hearts and minds with his performance. We all know he was supposed to be the “villain” but in the end we were all on HIS side . . . 

Once again, GSSSA has brought a production to Adelaide Musical Theatre that placed local talent very much in Matt Ralph’s well crafted spotlights. This updated version of a timeless classic is not to be missed. 

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