Oct 27 2017 | By More

★★★★☆     Spirited

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 25 – Sat 28 Oct 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson

Melodic drive and fine performances make EDGAS’s Oklahoma! at the Church Hill until Saturday a real treat.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration, initially seen in 1943, has historical significance, with a claim to being the single most important work in the development of the Broadway musical as we know it today.

Annabel Irene and Craig Young. Pic: Rona MacAulay

If Oklahoma’s  downhome story of love among the cowpokes, complete with lashings of Midwestern corn, now seems to belong to another era, the non-stop parade of showstopping tunes ensures its enduring popularity.

From the opening Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’, we are clearly in safe hands. Craig Young’s Curly has an instant presence as the classic musical-theatre light, melodic baritone, immediately likeable and nailing each of his featured numbers,

Annabel Hamid’s Laurey provides an effective foil for him. Their duet on the evergreen People Will Say We’re In Love is thoroughly convincing and genuinely emotional. Hamid’s portrayal of the impetuous, headstrong Laurey is one of several convincing performances in a production that is strongly acted throughout. Her singing is wonderfully clear and melodic, even if her accent sounds a little too cut-glass.

There are a few wobbly accents in evidence, with Curly’s surname being McLaine no doubt being the excuse for so many apparently Scottish settlers among the American-born.

convincing twang

No such problems with Leah Kincer’s Ado Annie, the girl who famously Can’t Say No, whose convincing twang helps a thoroughly spirited comic performance. Colin Povey, as her suitor Will Parker, seems somewhat cheeky and lightweight to be a champion steer-roper, but his cheerful, airy performance complements Kincer’s beautifully.

Michael McFarlane and Samantha Currie. Pic: Rona MacAulay

The supporting performances are equally impressive. Samantha Currie’s Aunt Eller combines humorous approachability with no-nonsense pragmatism. David McBain, as Annie’s father Andrew Carnes, has a dangerous air about him that suggests that he might just use the shotgun he waves in people’s faces. Peter Tomassi, even if his accent is more Bela Lugosi than ‘Persian’, invests the ludicrous character of the pedlar Ali Hakim with such humanity and comic knowhow that he even gets away with quoting the Proclaimers.

Brooding baddie Jud Fry is a problem role; sometimes partly sympathetic, sometimes presented as an out-and-out psychopath. Despite the presence of his solo Lonely Room, often omitted but outstandingly sung here, Michael McFarlane’s performance tends more towards the dark side. McFarlane has enough presence to give the character genuine menace.

Attention to detail from director Alan Borthwick means that there is a compelling edge to smaller characters. For example, Gertie Cummings is often little more than an annoying laugh who sets her cap at Curly. While Rebekah Lansley has a suitably grating cackle, she also believes that Gertie is a real person and plays her accordingly.

snap and upbeat togetherness

Choreographer Janice Bruce has done a sterling job with the set-piece dances. There is a commendable snap and upbeat togetherness to the two-steps and high-kicking numbers, with a huge chorus skilfully used. Debbie McConnell is impressive as the ‘dream’ version of Laurey in the ballet sequence.

The ensemble. Pic: Rona MacAulay

Vocally, the chorus numbers are not always as successful. The large and tuneful orchestra, under the accomplished direction of David Lyle, sometimes drown out individual singers, and even the chorus struggle to be heard at times.

A similar problem of audibility occurs when the cast are so eager to keep things moving that they talk over audience applause after songs; when this eclipses some performers’ only lines, this is doubly unfortunate.

The desire to keep the pace up is welcome, however, in such a lengthy show, with the first act in particular seeming very long to modern audiences. It never outstays its welcome though, in such a lively, tuneful and extremely entertaining production.

Running time 2 hours 55 minutes including one interval
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 25 – Saturday 28 October 2017
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat at 2.30 pm
Tickets from: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/edgas.

Company website: www.edgas.org
Facebook: /EdinburghGilbertSullivan
Twitter: @EdinGnS.


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