"An infectious and passionate musical"
by Jill Lawrie for remotegoat on 23/07/19

A new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s American classic “Oklahoma!” is Chichester’s big summer musical playing now until early September. Based on Lynn Riggs’ “Green Grow the Lilacs” this exuberant romantic tale is peppered with some of our best-loved music and lyrics including “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin”, “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” “People will say we’re in Love” and of course “Oklahoma”. This budding romance is set against a landmark period in the early 1900’s American history.

Central to the story is the fundraising box social where the men in the community bid for food hampers prepared by the womenfolk. Lovelorn cowboy Curly is hoping to take local farm girl Laurey to the event but the dark and menacing hired hand Jud also has his sights set on the young girl. Meanwhile the amiable trio of feisty Ado Annie, amorous pedlar Ali Hakim and returning sweetheart Will Parker bring plenty of humour to the action. Tensions erupt as disturbing undertones abound as the auction progresses resulting in a tense stand-off as Curly and Jud go head to head in a profoundly uncomfortable bidding war. Eventually the celebrations are marred by tragedy.
Director Jeremy Sams speaks passionately about the energetic and youthful company he has put together for this production, the two young leads being not long out of drama school. Making her Chichester debut is Josie Lawrence taking the role of dominant Aunt Eller. She admirably takes control of the assertive, strong-minded, gun totting matriarch. Scott Karim gives great comic mileage as the colourful, flamboyant lothario Ali Hakim. Rich toned Emmanuel Kojo excels as the hostile and threatening Jud Fry while Bronte Barbe captivates as playful and easily wooed Ado Annie Carnes. Charismatic Hyoie O’Grady (Curly) and award winner Amara Okereke (Laurey) delight as their concealed feelings for each other gradually blossom in to refreshingly natural performances.

Credit too for set designer Robert Jones’ large open space, bordered with various barrels, buckets + impressive wheeled vehicles and choreographer Matt Cole for the exemplary ensemble who dazzle at a breathless pace with their energetic skills and dynamic dance routines.

Although the show is a little slow initially there is plenty of enjoyment to be had and as the atmosphere builds into an exhilarating fusion of harmonies, dance and drama the audience are brought to their feet as the show concludes.

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