★★★ | Oklahoma! National Tour

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, Oklahoma!, is revived in this touring production, bringing with it a plethora of muscly armed cowboys, giggling girls and barn dances aplenty.

Oklahoma is one of the classic American musicals, featuring songs including “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’”; “People Will Say We’re In Love” and the title song, “Oklahoma”. The tale is a familiar one, of will they/won’t they love, a jealous potential suitor and a host of colourful supporting characters, all set against the backdrop of the turn of the century Old West.

The show itself remains the fairly easy going and generally pleasant experience that it has always been, where the whimsical plot and jolly songs require no effort on behalf of the audience. It’s a fairly typical musical of the era, and this version remains fairly simplistic in its presentation. Ashley Day, as the lead cowboy, Curly, has the right balance of looks, charisma and natural singing ability to carry off the part, and Simon Anthony does an equally good job as Will Parker. Standing out from the crowd was Gary Wilmot, as Ali Hakim, the pedlar, remaining, as ever, the consummate professional and looking like he genuinely hasn’t aged a day. The remaining cast generally were in fine voice, but the female characters were hampered by ultra-thick American accents and a far too high pitched and squeaky tone.

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But where the production was let down was in its rather straight forward presentation. The majority of the (95 minute) first act took place on a static stage with only one key set change, which led to a set which was not as visually stimulating or dynamic enough as it could have been. Added to this was the fact that it was genuinely difficult to hear what was being said or sung which made the play harder work then it should have been. The direction was generally functional rather than dazzling and the choreography came across as slightly clunky at times. Those issues aside, the cast’s enthusiasm was undeniable, the performances were polished and the whole thing did pick up in the second act, finishing with a rather rousing chorus of “Oklahoma” and a standing ovation from the audience.

Overall, this was a fairly basic and incredibly safe production of a classic musical. I do feel it slightly missed the chance to be something much better than it is, but for a straight forward production and to enable the audience to hear those classic songs sung well, it is a pleasant enough evening at the theatre.
Oklahoma! is playing at the Sheffield Lyceum until Saturday 1st August 2015 (see www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk for details and tickets); before rounding off its national tour at High Wycombe from the 4th to the 8th August 2015 (see www.wycombeswan.co.uk for details)