I took my seat on opening night with a strong sense of nostalgia – for two reasons.
Firstly, I was in a school production of Oklahoma! at the awkward age of 13; and secondly, one of the cast was the mum in my favourite childhood programme, 2.4 Children.
This was Belinda Lang and, for me, while everyone made a great contribution to the show, she was the stand out star.
In the role of feisty matriarch Aunt Ella, Belinda ruled her ranch with a firm but fair fist. The worldly wise elder had plenty to reside over, not least a pair of love triangles worthy of Jeremy Kyle.
At the centre of the first was her niece, Laurie, played with gusto by Charlotte Wakefield. Laurie wasn’t a prim damsel in distress by any stretch of the imagination and Charlotte got to grips with her inner steel while displaying bags of personality.
Her singing wasn’t to be sniffed at either. From the punchy Many A New Day to the soothing People Will Say We’re In Love, Charlotte’s voice suited the sweeping Rogers & Hammerstein score perfectly.
The same could be said of fellow romantic lead Ashley Day as Curly. Having opening proceedings with Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, he was a great fit for the sprightly and courageous cowboy.
His playful nature came out in Surrey With The Fringe On Top but he showed true grit in the scenes with love rival Jud Fry.
In this role Nic Greenshields’ mean and moody stage presence was ideal. He also demonstrated a fantastic lower register during the melancholic Poor Jud is Daid.
In stark contrast was wise-cracking pedlar Ali Hakim played by West End legend Gary Wilmot.
If Ali was around today he’d be selling knock off fragrances or used cars and Gary revelled in the role of a man who could charm birds out of trees.
He and Lucy May Barker as Ado Annie made for a great double act, ensuring comic relief between the more dramatic moments.
Occupying the third point in that love triangle was James O’Connell as Will Parker. Arriving to the thigh-slapping Kansas City, he, like many of the cast, proved himself a fantastic dancer.
Rogers & Hammerstein films are known for their epic routines. Without the luxury of countless film ‘takes’, this stage cast got things right first time and with great aplomb,
A terrific score was delivered in style by Ben Atkinson and his orchestra, contributing to a thoroughly enjoyable evening.