Oklahoma! review at Grange Park Opera, Surrey – ‘performed with unstoppable aplomb’
Opera companies sometimes use musicals as a way of replenishing the coffers. Others – such as Grange Park Opera – have developed a genuine and ongoing interest in the form.
Directed by Jo Davies with expensive-looking visuals by Francis O’Connor and Gabrielle Dalton, this year’s major revival of the 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein Americana classic Oklahoma! is top of the Grange Park range.
It also demonstrates a couple of advantages when full-scale opera companies take on such pieces: the 50-strong BBC Concert Orchestra sounds glorious under Richard Balcombe, while the casting of operatic baritone Phillip Rhodes gives Jud a weight and sympathy that reminds us how ambiguous the moral compass of this – at first sight – straightforward show really is.
But the musical theatre casting has been equally expertly done. Dex Lee makes a charismatic Curly, his boundlessly good-natured performance founded on balletic skills in the celebrated dream sequence and absolute assurance with both text and notes: to match him Katie Hall treats Laurey as something a good deal more complex than apple-pie.
If Ado Annie is a tricky role these days, then Natasha Cottriall does everything possible to make her human as well as funny, while in what is – astonishingly – his first professional performance, Louis Gaunt’s delightfully naive and once again expertly danced Will Parker is up there with the best.
Claire Moore brings wit and warmth to every moment of Aunt Eller’s crucial linking role, while as the preposterous Ali Hakim – here the Persian pedlar has clearly travelled via Vienna – Steven Serlin misses nary a trick.
The entire company, though, rises to all challenges thrown at them with unstoppable aplomb. By the end, you have enjoyed much more than a feel-good evening: you’ve experienced the strength and vitality of the material to a level it is rarely allowed to achieve.