Josie Lawrence is relishing her Chichester Festival Theatre debut in Oklahoma!

Josie Lawrence
Josie Lawrence

Josie Lawrence makes her Chichester debut this summer in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (July 15-September 7), directed by Jeremy Sams.

“In fact, I am having a bit of a Jeremy Sams year,” says Josie. “He adapted the last play I did which was Edmond de Bergerac. He adapted it from the French.

“He is a great director to work with. He is a director that you want to do well for. He runs a very happy ship. Every director is different, and it would be difficult to put into words how they are different, but Jeremy is a very loving and smiley kind of director, very lovely with people, and his ideas always work. But what is lovely with the casting for this one is that he specifically said he wanted to cast young. It is a very young cast.

“We are not talking about 40-somethings. This is about the first trappings of love. Ado Annie is suddenly filling out and the boys are starting to notice her, and Laurey was a young kid last year and now she is changing too. This is a play about the first beginnings of love. This is not about people in their 20s and 30s.”

Handsome cowboy Curly McLain is head over spurs for farm owner Laurey Williams. But lonely ranch-hand Jud Fry has his sinister sights set on her too.

And Laurey’s not the only girl with cowboy problems. Ado Annie’s beau Will Parker is back from chasing steers in Kansas City, where he won the fifty dollars her father insists Will must have to marry her.

But this irrepressible farm girl won’t be bought quite so easily.

Luckily for this love-struck crew of spirited ranchers and bronco busters, wise Aunt Eller is riding ahead of the herd.

Josie, whose stage work ranges from Shakespeare at the RSC and Globe to The King and I in the West End, plays Aunt Eller.

“She is lovely. She is the heart of the community. We did a lot of research into what this musical was based on. She lost her husband.

“He was murdered when he got sold some diseased pigs and he went off to complain – and was shot. She has children that died and she has had children that went away.

“Laurey’s parents died when she was young so Aunt Eller has been living with this young girl for years, taking care of her. She is the definite matriarch!

Josie’s extensive television credits include Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Humans and Outside Edge, and she makes regular appearances at the Comedy Store.

Oklahoma! is her second Rodgers & Hammerstein: “I took over from Elaine Paige in The King and I. I think that was 2001.

“When Jeremy asked me to play Aunt Eller, I just jumped at the chance… and I am having a ball. An absolute ball.

“I am jumping out of bed everything morning thinking ‘I am going to work! Hooray!’ I am surrounded by such a wonderful young company, and it is just beautiful watching them.

“Oklahoma! has got fantastic songs, fantastic tunes. I am finding it joyous and uplifting.”

As Josie says, people say that Oklahoma! or Carousel are the blueprints for the musicals we know now.

“But with Oklahoma! the joy is that the premise is so simple.

“The storyline is a young lad wanting to ask a young girl to a dance… and then of course, things get darker…. But it is just fantastic having Jeremy as our director.”

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