I was none-too-complimentary about the Festival Theatre’s production of Oklahoma! so it was with heavy heart that I went to Ferneham Hall to witness South Downe Music Society’s version of the self-same show, but I was very pleasantly surprised.
South Downe Musical Society stalwart, Helen Stoddart, gives us a Laurey that is far from a shrinking violet. Her vocal interpretation of the role is very different from the usual prim mezzo; Stoddart’s vocals are her trademark full belt, but with narrower, cleaner top notes than I’ve heard from her before.
Perry Ralls as hero, Curly, is likewise strong in his vocals and his acting is smooth.
This show highlights the talents of Matt Sackman, playing baddie, Jud. I’ve never seen a Jud like it – and all power to Sackman for coming up with it and to director, Jane Pegler, for letting him run with it. Sackman’s Jud exists in a world of his own – even in the big ensemble scenes.
And when he lets his lungs loose on those wonderful character-driven numbers, he soars.
Alan Jenkins makes a sublime Ali Hakim, too.
My one big moan relates to the big number – Oklahoma! - itself.
The song is a celebration of unity and hope in the future, but the cast pretty much idle their way through it; there’s no joy and little energy and a lot of them simply forget to smile.
The signature whoop at the end of the song seems half-heartedly spoken rather than whooped and, as the crowning-glory of the show, it feels a little lame.
Other than that, there is lots to admire and enjoy.