Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Oklahoma Congress Theatre Eastbourne Review

Congress Theatre
3-7 August 2010
(show seen 4th Aug)

* The role of Ado Annie was played by Beth Angharad
It is not known who played Gertie Cummings

Oklahoma Programme well worth the investmentLet's kick off with the programme for this production for a change. This is one of those programmes that is well worth the £5 investment. A large, glossy, 36 page, high quality publication. The photography is superb and there is plenty of factual information. Not just relating to the cast and show but interesting facts regarding the state of Oklahoma and its founding.
On with the show which kicks off after one of the longest musical intros I have ever heard. Our headline celebrity star, Marti Webb, is first on stage doing some serious milk churning. I'll get Marti's role out of the way to start with. Playing Aunt Eller Marti by no means has one of the most major parts. There are many other important characters in Oklahoma that are far more involved both with dialogue and singing.

Marti does, however, get the chance to contribute in many tracks including dominating the well known "Farmer and The Cowman". From such an established artist the performance is just great. Although I have to wonder if Marti has developed RSI in the right wrist due to the large amount of time she spends "churning"?

So no, on this occasion, the star is not the star by any means. That honour lies with two much lesser known artists who are vocally exceptional. Joining Marti on stage at the beginning you know you are in for something special as Mark Evans followed by Gemma Sutton deliver a beautiful rendition of "Oh what a beautiful mornin' "

Mark is probably best recognized nationally from his appearance in the BBC's and Andrew Lloyd Webbers Your Country Needs You in which he was a finalist. That's the show where they find a gifted artist to compete in the farcical Eurovision Song Contest with it's biased political voting system. Welshman Mark has since gone on to perform in films (Lake Placid 3) on TV (Showing Brain) and has appeared in many major theatrical productions including  Wicked, The Rocky Horror Show and High School Musical.

Gemma Sutton star of OklahomaMarks character of Curly is complemented perfectly by Gemma Sutton's Laurey. Gemma's CV is purely theatrical but what a CV that is with multiple West End credits already to her name including Melanie in Gone With The Wind (New London Theatre) and a role in Children Will Listen at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Both having incredible vocal ranges and beautiful voices tracks like People Will Say We're in Love are sung in perfect harmony.

Pete Gallagher's take on Jud Fry is nothing short of amazing. It's powerful and emotional as he plays the weird, psychotic, oddball Jud with a convincing realism.

Beth Angharad may have been an understudy but, unless it had been announced at the beginning, nobody would have known. Ado Annie Carnes was absolutely hilarious as a result of the unforseen casting change.

These are West End performers at their very best and I will give the final mentions to Joseph Pitcher, who makes an excellent Will Parker, and to Vas Constanti who plays the madcap mobile salesman, Ali Hakim, and who has the audience in stitches as a result.

Was everything perfect? Well in these hard times for theatrical productions something has to give and the orchestra is smaller than you might expect. It still has some percussion but 3 keyboards amongst the instruments means that more instruments can be replicated without additional cost. Did it affect the music? Not in the slightest and  as I said there are still a few percussionists.

The only other thing was an issue Joseph Pitcher had with his microphone in the first part of the show. However, in these days where technolgy plays such an important part in theatre all the artist can do is carry on regardless which Joe did in style.

A terrific, very long (over 2 and a half hours) production which is a credit to it's West End stars and to choreographer, Chris Hocking, who delivered impressive dance routines throughout.
5 out of 5 for Oklahoma with Marti Webb
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