Monday, October 23, 2023



Oklahoma. Music by Richard Rodgers. Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Direction and choreography by Belinda Hassall and Christina Philipp.

Musical direction by Jenna Hinton. Set Design. Jen Hinton and Thompson Quan Wing. Costumes by Janetta McRae. Lighting by Jacob Aquilina (Eclipse).

Sound. Joel Edmondson (Eclipse). Queanbeyan Players. The Q Theatre. October 13 – 29. Bookings or 62856290  

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Aunt Eller and Company in Queanbeyan Players Oklahoma

Richard Rodger’s and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Oklahoma is the quintessential musical of the Golden Age of American musicals. Rodger’s captivating melodies and big sound company numbers and Hammerstein’s skilfully woven storytelling lyrics captured the imagination of a nation still emerging from the war years and looking forward to a bright future. It was the age of entertainment. It is six decades since I sat transfixed at the movie at the local cinema. I was entranced by the love story between Curly and Laurey. I laughed at the muddleheadedness of Ado Annie. I felt the threat and the intense isolation of Jud Fry. Rodger’s catchy orchestral score lingered down the decades and Hammerstein’s  insight into the lives of the cattle and farming community of Kansas, their rivalries and human emotions held a universal fascination for me.

Demi Smith as Laurey. Emma White as Aunt Eller

Kansas and Australia seemed not so very far apart in the world that I was glued to on the big screen. Queanbeyan Players’ amateur production of the evergreen musical has a huge heart and plenty of gusto. The creative team have been meticulous in recreating the flavour and the fervour of the musical. It is evident in the corn stalks that reach as high as an elephant’s eye behind the white picket fence of Aunt Eller’s rural residence in Jen Hinton’s and Thompson Quan Wing’s excellent set design. It is there in the windmill and the hay stacks and in Jud’s roughly hewn shack with photos of naked women on the wall. That same eye for authenticity is apparent in Janetta McRae’s colourful costuming of the community. The production glistens with colour and freshness. Director/chorographers  Belinda Hassall and Christina Philipp have brought the musical to life with enthusiasm, clever stage business and inspired casting. The original production broke new ground with Agnes de Mille’s choreography and Hassall and Philipp have certainly captured the period and the community with their inclusion of Hootenanny, line dancing Progressive Barn Dance and a certain touch of Eurythmics, I’m not sure what the Can Can is doing in Laurey’s  dream sequence but it feeds the fantasy of French risqué.

Demi Smith as Laurey and Nathanael Patterson as Curly

Queanbeyan Players has assembled a fine cast of principals and a lively ensemble for this very entertaining production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical. Nathanael Patterson’s Curly is immediately likeable as his clear cut diamond tenor voice rings out with Oh What a Beautiful Morning. As Laurey, Demi Smith emanates a sweet innocence that bristles with derision in her scene with poor Jud Fry. Ash Syme captures the sympathy with his lovesick rendition of Will Parker. There is an appealing naivety to his Everything’s Up To Date in Kansas City. Emily Pogson again asserts her position as one of the shining stars of the musical stage with her funny, daffy performance of Ado Annie and Emma White brings a touch of down to earth pumpkin pie practicality to the role of Aunt Eller while Britt Lewis’s Giggling Gertie giggles her way sridently  into matrimony with Andrew Finnigan’s peddling clown, Ali. Paul Sweeny lends a powerful pathos to the role of Jud Fry. In the midst of the fun and laughter Sweeny captures the resentful and lonely mood of the outsider in a performance that reminds me of Rod Steiger’s  Fry all those years ago.

There is much to enjoy in this production of Oklahoma and the chorus hit the heights with their ebullient renditions of The Farmer And The Cowman Should be Friends that opens Act 2 wiha bang and Oklahoma as a stirring chorus of proud patriotism. Only the sound levels at times created a harshness that could have been avoided with a more careful sound check. Miking has its benefits not the least a boost to the energy and confidence of performance. But it is not without its dangers and needs to carefully monitor the balance between Hinton’s outstanding orchestra and the singers’ fine voices.

For an enjoyable night out and a nostalgic glimpse at an era that gave us some of the all-time greats of the Golden Age of the American musical you can’t go past Queanbeyan Player’s production of Oklahoma.