Pioneering Territory Oklahoma! was the first full-length collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein when it changed the face of the Broadway musical 60 years ago. Director Martyn Knight, in his first show with BATS, maintained the pioneer spirit with a lively staging, well up to the usual high standard we have come to expect from this company. Musical director Neil Streeter guided singers and orchestra with a sure hand.
Set in Indian territory around the turn of the 20th century (but without an Indian in sight), the story tells of farmers and cowmen who should be friends, but in the case of surly farm hand Jud Fry and cocky cowboy Curly McLain this couldn't be further from the truth as they compete to take Laurey Williams to the Box Social. A second love triangle concerns Ado Annie who 'cain't say no' to her two suitors - Will Parker, just returned from Kansas City, and the peddler Ali Hakim.
The wide open spaces of Oklahoma were depicted with an effective minimalistic set which gave plenty of room for the energetic choreography of the strong cast. The dialogue was delivered at a cracking pace and, once the ear had got accustomed to the accents, there were several excellent characterisations to enjoy. Sweet-voiced Laurey was sung and acted beautifully by Theresa Lunn while a suitably curly-haired Robert Wilson had a confident swagger as her beau. Tracey Gonzato's Ado Annie lit up the stage on her every appearance, her scatty sense of humour providing a strong contrast to the darker elements of the story epitomised by the brooding menace of Ian 'Spud' Smith as Jud.
The innovative Dream Ballet which closed act one was presented in dramatic fashion, enhanced by blood-red lighting, as Laurey's dreams of happiness became a nightmare, foreshadowing the realistic fight scene in the second half before the obligatory happy ending with Curly and Laurey riding off into the sunset in their Surrey with the fringe on top.