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Review: Oklahoma at Iona Performing Arts Centre

By Regan Baker

Oklahoma marks my first community theatre review for Theatre Travels, and it will not be one I soon forget. Savoyards Musical Comedy Society are no strangers to Oklahoma, with this being their fifth outing of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic since 1967, this time helmed by Director Robbie Parkin. Having never seen a Savoyards musical before I did not know what to expect but am pleased to say that Parkin’s Direction and the entire cast exceeded any expectations I may have had. With a cast of over 35 performers and a live orchestral pit (something I did not expect from a high school performing arts centre), all involved are to be highly commended for bringing this 1943 classic to life.

For those that are not across the story, Okahoma is set in Western Indian territory America in the

early 1900’s and follows the love story of cowboy Curley McLain (Joshua Thia) and winsome farmgirl Laurey Williams (Chloe Makiol). Set against a backdrop of the good-humoured and high spirted rivalry between the farmers and cowboys, Curley and Laurey dance around their feelings for each other in their pursuit of true love, but as always, this is never a smooth road.

Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, the opening number from Curly McLain (and one of Oklahoma’s mostfamous numbers) didn’t have me sold initially, but the performance grew in strength from here on. Possibly due in part to preview-night jitters, Thia’s voice appeared shaky and lacking slightly in confidence, though he projected well, and his vocal range reached the notes he needed. While his voice wasn’t to my personal taste, I do not want to take away from Thia as a performer as he owned the stage and encapsulated the role of Curly with ease.

Jacqui Cuny was superb as Aunt Eller, Tristan Vanyai nailed his role as Will Parker and Emma

Markham perfectly portrayed the ear-piercingly annoying Gertie Cummings. Warryn James’ hilarious take on Ali Hakim was probably one of the crowds (and my personal) favourites as he brought so much energy and characterisation to the Persian Peddler. All in all, the casting decisions were absolutely on point, and while I have only singled out a few names above, all roles were marvellously cast.

And don’t think I have forgotten about Chloe Makiol, because as is tradition, one must save the best for last. Playing the role of the bright and sassy Laurey Williams was a perfect fit for Makiol and her performance must truly be commended. She took to the stage with grace and filled the theatre with her presence. And despite being only eighteen years old, Makiol has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard in community theatre and has a truly bright future ahead of her.

At almost three-hours in length however, the main downfall of the production was its pacing and

overall length. Some of the dance sequences carried on for two or three times longer than necessary and really stunted the progression of the overall story arc. One of the most important lessons I learnt as a scriptwriter for film and television is that every scene MUST have a purpose in progressing the storyline, and some of these dance sequences simply didn’t do this. Dance as a whole was the company’s weakness, which is completely fine considering the rarity of a triple-threat in amazing acting, singing and dancing in community theatre. For future productions my advice would be to play to your strength, which in this case was the casts’ incredible acting and vocal ability and shorten some of the longer, and somewhat unnecessary dance routines. The musical overture also seemed to go on forever and could have been cut in half as the audience was evidently put off and recommenced chattering.

My biggest annoyance of the whole performance, however, was the inconsiderate and downright

disrespectful nature of the audience. So just a reminder that no matter what show you are

attending, whether it be your third-graders dance recital, a community theatre production, or a

Broadway musical it is a simple sign of respect to (a) not talk during the performance and (b) turn off your phone. There were two phone calls during the show, multiple people chattering and the guy next to me was texting. Unbelievable.

I had to get that off my chest, but back onto the positives! I loved Savoyard’s Oklahoma. I went in

without expectation and came out thoroughly surprised and warmed by the performance as a

whole. The casting was amazing, the costuming beautiful and the singing incredible. While it is a long show, it is worth it to see, and if anything, just go to see Chloe Makiol before she makes it big – you heard it here first!

Image Supplied

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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