Not just Oklahoma, but rather Oklahoma!, the exclamation mark tells you all you need to know about this production.
The producers of Oklahoma! have embraced this deep south musical for what it is: big, brash, colourful fun. One never loses the sense of a cast that is having a ball – and one’s toes instinctively start to tap.
The main romantic pairing, Curly (Jacob Lloyd) and Laurey (Nancy Cole) strike up a dynamic chemistry from the off, their scornful teasing hiding real emotional commitment beneath.
They spar with one another, full of fiery confidence (‘I ain’t said I was going!’/ ‘I ain’t asked ya!’), yet are also capable of moments of genuine tenderness – as Laurey’s beautiful head sinks onto Curley’s broad chest, the audience too thinks, ‘Maybe I got a dream worth a-keeping.’
Lloyd’s imposing stage presence makes a contrast to his counterpart, the sprightly young Will (Jon Head).
Head’s wiry figure seems one strong American gust of wind away from being blown off the stage, yet his wide-eyed boyishness epitomises the infectious energy of this production as he leaps around the stage like a wide-eyed puppy.
Not that this is all rootin’ tootin’ innocent fun. Charlie Mallinson’s turn as the embittered Jud Fry exudes danger, getting right under the skin of the volcanic farm-hand. Red-faced, eyes bulging, Mallinson growls his way through ‘Lonely Room’ like a trapped animal at bay.
His deep voice, occasionally expanding to boom out through the room, ultimately descends to a vicious, spitting snarl in a rare moment of darkness that anchors the laughter all around.
Yet such shadows are swept away as Oklahoma! flies into its final stages and the entire cast thumps out the last few songs.
One can’t help but smile as they bound into their greetings, or when their squabbles are solved by Aunt Eller (Zosia Kuczynska) enforcing happiness with a six-shooter (‘Now, sing!’).
Sam Aldred revels in his comic turn as the beleaguered Ali Hakim, at once awkward and charming – and enjoying a surprising late flourish of Cossack dancing and high kicks.
All in all, Oklahoma! does what it sets out to do. There is the occasional flaw – the dancing tends to lack ambition, the occasional accent misses ‘deep south’ and hits yokel, the odd dance-step is missed – but these are just nit-pickings.
Oklahoma! is good fun from start to finish, packed with great musical numbers and full of old-fashioned charm and wit. Yessir – this is darn fine entertainment.