Tag Archives: Kara Lane

Oh, What A Beautiful Show!

OKLAHOMA!

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 30th June, 2015

 

Having seen this production earlier in the tour, it was an absolute treat to be given the chance to see it again. I loved everything about it the first time and my love is renewed and redoubled to catch it a second time.

The material, of course, is sublime. Richard Rodgers’s melodic score, Oscar Hammerstein II’s witty book and lyrics, blend to create sumptuous entertainment, and this high quality production from Music & Lyrics and Northampton’s Derngate Theatre serves this classic supremely well.

Director Rachel Kavanaugh evokes both period and place, sending up, like Hammerstein does, the charmingly parochial attitudes (cf Kansas City) creating a community with its own moral values. She brings out the humour of the script and has her superlative company play it with heart as big as all outdoors.

Unofficial matriarch Aunt Eller rules the roost in a stonking performance by Belinda Lang, hard-boiled with a soft centre. Charlotte Wakefield’s Laurey is feisty and bold, with a sweet but powerful singing voice. From the off, Laurey bickers with cowboy Curly – in a homespun Beatrice and Benedick way – and we know they are made for each other. As for Curly – well – you fall in love with Ashley Day as soon as his voice announces, clear as bell, what kind of morning it is. Day has the matinee idol good looks, the irreverent attitude, heart-on-his-sleeve, good humour. He sings like an angel in a cowboy hat.

A rival for Laurey’s affections, although a non-starter, is live-in farm hand Jud Fry – a towering performance from Nic Greenshields. His operatic bass blends well with Curly’s tenor for the ironic duet, Pore Jud Is Daid.   He is a barely contained mass of menace, a dark presence in this otherwise idyllic land. Kavanaugh balances the comedy with tension: Pore Jud is volatile enough to explode at any second.

Gary Wilmot is in his element as itinerant peddler Ali Hakim, delivering more than ribbons and other fripperies on his rounds. Wilmot’s comic timing is flawless – the jokes and business still play fresh. Lucy May Barker’s Ado Annie, a girl of distractable virtue, is a belter, in terms of selling her big number I Cain’t Say No, and in characterisation. It’s a dream of a cast, supported by an excellent chorus, including great character work from Kara Lane as Gertie Cummings and Simon Anthony, appearing in this performance as Will Parker.

During the interval I hear some purist complaining that the cylindrical hay bales with and on which the cowboys dance come from a later, mechanised age. “They should be haystacks!” he moans, balefully.  I think he’s looking for something to criticise and is clutching at straws.  I’d rather sacrifice agricultural accuracy for theatrical expediency: Drew McOnie’s spectacular and exuberant  choreography would miss those bales terribly.

If you can overlook the hay issue, and most people seem able to, this is a truly wonderful production of a masterpiece, the pinnacle of its genre. Sometimes humanity gets things right and produces a perfect classic. Mozart did it with Don Giovanni, Walt Disney did it with Pinocchio. And Rodgers and Hammerstein did it with Oklahoma! This is popular art that speaks to us on many levels, through solid storytelling and life-affirming values.

The tour has just six weeks left to run. I urge you to catch it if you can.

Ashley Day as Curly (centre) and those controversial bales of hay (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Ashley Day as Curly (centre) and those controversial bales of hay (Photo: Pamela Raith)

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The Whole Shooting Match

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 1st July 2014

 

Irving Berlin’s classic musical is given a fresh makeover in this touring production.

Herbert and Dorothy Fields’s script still crackles with funny one-liners but new additions by Peter Stone give the show a slightly Brechtian feel, with the theatricality of the production laid bare, and scenes announced as they are set up.  It’s like a palatable version of Chicago – here the characters have at least one redeeming quality if they’re not out-and-out lovable.    The score contains standards everyone knows: There’s No Business Like Show Business is a gem of an opening number and recurring motif, and Anything You Can Do is a comic highlight.

Set in Buffalo Bill’s Big Top, the story of the rivalry and romance between Frank Butler (Jason Donovan) and Annie Oakley (Emma Williams) is played out, with only crates and cases for scenery, and the band and other cast members on stage throughout.  Billowing red and white striped cloths evoke the circus tent, but rather than alienating us, these devices draw us in.

Norman Pace looks hale and hearty as Southern gentleman and showman Buffalo Bill Cody – in his white suit and goatee you expect him to crack out the fried chicken at any second.  Jason Donovan looks great in Butler’s clothes (he should wear them all the while – when he’s not in his Joseph loincloth, of course!) and his characterisation works well.  I feel he lacks the vocal power at times to match Butler’s blowhard posturing – although I did hear his mic crackle a couple of times, so perhaps that explains it.

Lorna Want and Yiftach Mizrahi are charming as young lovers in a mixed-race subplot, and as Want’s elder showgirl sister Dolly, Kara Lane struts around splendidly as the show’s nominal villain.  There is strong character support from Dermot Canavan as hotel owner Wilson and Cody’ rival showman Pawnee Bill, while Ed Currie towers over the proceedings as a dignified but funny Sitting Bull.

The show belongs, though, to Emma Williams’s Annie Oakley.  From her entrance as a scruffy, cross-dressing trapper/hunter to her transformation into a star through the magic and machinations of show business, she is superb.  Her characterisation is broad but it works beautifully and her singing voice is by far the best in the company.  You admire the performer and care for the character in this vibrant and engaging treatment of a heart-warming, old school musical that hits every target.

 

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Emma Williams, Jason Donovan and Norman Pace