Oklahoma! certain to be Chichester Festival Theatre's big summer hit - review

OKLAHOMA! - pic by Johan Persson
OKLAHOMA! - pic by Johan Persson

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, Chichester Festival Theatre, until September 7

If you thought that Oklahoma! wasn’t the most exciting choice for the big summer musical, watch it and you’ll have every reason to think again.

It’s here and it’s a cracker, a spectacular production, huge on energy and passion, a show which gives you everything to look at and probably a little more to think about on the way home.

You’ll never see a CFT stage busier than it is for the opening number of the second half – so full of life and colour that you struggle to take it in, all of it choreographed to complete perfection, especially… well, just how many of them were there on that skipping rope!

And this after the dream ballet which closed the first half – a sequence as entrancing as it was beautiful and, in one particular moment, shocking.

Maybe there’s a number or two which possibly could be lost in a show which eventually ends up seeming perhaps a little long, but in every other respect, director Jeremy Sams masterminds it all handsomely, getting the fullest value from his most youthful of casts.

There’s a feeling we are watching plenty of stars in the making.

It’s a show all about young love, and Sams determinedly keeps it all young – a decision vindicated in all the freshness he conjures. And in the complexity. Yes, we all know Jud is sinister, but this is a production that will leave you feeling that Emmanuel Kojo in the role is definitely more sinned against than sinning.

Oklahoma! is the tale of just who’s going to get the two gals, two gals who can’t decide which guy they want.

Hyoie O’Grady is superb as Curly. His is clearly a name we are going to be seeing an awful lot more of. Opposite him, not quite ready to admits she wants him, Amara Okereke sings beautifully as Laurey.

Isaac Gryn is remarkably assured as Will Parker, clearly a complete stage natural, and Bronté Barbé bubbles with cheeky fun as Ado Annie, the girl who just can’t say no… for the simple reason that she wants it all.

Scott Karim offers plenty of laughs as the peddler Ali Hakim, a guy who gets far more entangled than he’d ever want to; and Josie Lawrence keeps everyone in check as a delightful Aunt Eller.

Matt Cole’s choreography is every bit as impressive as the classic songs he’s working with, and Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costume design is another key element in a rich summer package.

Oklahoma! always feels the thinnest of plots, but given the music, that hardly matters, and the characters, so well delineated, do the rest on an excellent night for Chichester Festival Theatre. Safe to say they’ve secured their big summer hit.

Glittering line-up for Petworth Festival 2019

Looking for West Sussex's finest young vocalists!

Season of stars at Brighton Dome

See who's coming to the Petworth Festival