No doubt Harvest Rain’s Artistic Director, Tim O’Connor jumped out of bed singing “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” on the opening night of Oklahoma!
It may have taken twenty-eight years for Harvest Rain to make its professional debut but it was evident the years of prior experience had paid off. And sold out shows were proof Brisbane was excited to see what the theatre company had in store.
Openly admitting that Rodger and Hammenstein’s acclaimed musical, Oklahoma!, was never one of his favourites, O’Connor saw something important in its relevance to the evolution of musical theatre. The production hadn’t seen the Queensland stage in over 30 years so it was a lucrative option for Harvest Rain’s first professional fully staged musical.
A 25-piece orchestra, nestled in the background of the set (lead by Musical Director Maitlohn Drew) erupted in an overture for another beautiful morning on an Oklahoma farm. Enter a strapping young cowboy by the name of Curley, hell-bent on sweeping his crush, Laurey, off her feet. The only problem was, she was resistant to his charm and cuts down his melodramatic entrance with, “Oh, I thought you were somebody.” Their banter was amusing and playful – a testament to the timeless scripting still appealing to modern audiences.
The all star cast included Ian Stenlake (Sea Patrol, Stingers, Cabaret, Guys & Dolls) as Curly, Logie award winning actor Val Lehman (Prisoner) as Aunt Eller, veteran TV & Stage actor Steven Tandy (The Sullivans) as Andrew Carne, 2011 Australian Cabaret Showcase winner Angela Harding as Laurey and fresh out of the recent hit South Pacific, Musical Theatre star Andrew Conaghan takes on the role of Jud Fry.
Stenlake was obviously a strategic choice for casting, as his stage presence was as big as his resume. He embraced the cockiness of Curley but flexed his acting muscles to captivate the audience with the vulnerability of a man in love. His vocal performance was flawless, as expected. There were no surprises with Stenlake’s depiction of Curley but it was a pleasure to watch as the show’s leading man fight so hard for what he wanted.
Andy Conaghan’s portrayal of Jud Fry was convincing. The layers in his characterisation were evident; a lonely man looking for love but with pepperings of a deviate with taboo desires. His baritone voice complemented Stenlake’s tenor perfectly in the duet “Poor Jud Is Daid”.
Youngster Matty Johnston was a stand-out as the Persian peddler, Ali Hakim. His comedic timing and ability to propel subtext into the “theatresphere” was outstanding. The audience appeared constantly entertained by this character’s wheeling-and-dealing antics to remain a fancy-free bachelor.
Veteran theatre darling, Val Lehman sewed the cast together. Her strong characterisation and believable execution as Aunt Eller seamlessly joined the tangent storylines together with the sass of a woman who works hard on the land.
The only criticism with the casts’ performances would be the stage combat in the fight between Curly and Jud Fry. It appeared it needed a little tightening up, but given the rehearsal period to be only three weeks, this was an enormous feat in itself.
An interesting point to note about Oklahoma! was the use of the “dream ballet”. Hardly ever seen in modern musicals, it was refreshing to see this technique reincarnated for the show. It showcased the cast’s ability to story-tell through physicality and tested the waters for unspoken human desires.
Technically, the show was virtually faultless. It was professional with high quality production values and it was obvious the production team ran a tight ship. The costumes were stunning and the set used a small space in a creative way. Kudos to set and costume designer, Josh McIntosh. The lighting was mood-setting and the sound design played an integral role in setting the scene.
Overall, this was an entertaining depiction of an old-school, good ol’ knee-slapping love story, with a refreshing twist of contemporary themes and timeless comedy. Yippie-Yi-Ay to Harvest Rain for the amazing feat of finally birthing professional musical theatre to Queensland.
Harvest Rain’s Oklahoma! ran for a strictly limited season in QPAC’s Concert Hall 17- 20 April 2013.