By Tatum Stafford
The highly anticipated season of Black Swan Theatre Company’s ‘Oklahoma’ kicked off with a bang last night, as we were ushered onto the beautiful Heath Ledger stage and guided to blocks of seats that surrounded a large square stage. From the first chord of ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Morning’, as Curly (Emily Havea) glided into the play space, we knew we were in for a theatrical treat.
The story of ‘Oklahoma’ is a beloved one. As the first musical Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote together, many would be familiar with the plight of ambitious Laurey (Stefanie Caccamo), endearing Curly and the intimidating Jud (Andy Cook). However, this production left the 40’s behind and ventured throughout the decades to present a modern retelling that resonated with its opening night audience.
Though a little jarring at times, the show’s efforts to weave R&H’s classic material into a modern context provided a fresh, new spin on what is often perceived an outdated piece of theatre. One of the strongest and most effective choices made was the gender bending of Curly, who is traditionally played by a male actor. Havea brought a commendable gravitas and assurance to the role, and was a delight to watch thanks to her somewhat cheeky nature and playfulness when moving across the stage.
One of the most memorable sequences in the show featured incredible projections. When Curly walked off the stage to speak to Jud in his smokehouse, a camera followed her backstage and into Jud’s eerie house. As they talk and Jud subsequently plays a woeful lament on the piano, we were treated to a mesmerising projection on pieces of fringe that fell from the theatre roof.
The talent within this small but mighty cast is remarkable. Laurey’s lilting vocals, Will Parker (Axel Duffy)’s enthusiastic dancing and refined guitar skills, and Ado Annie (Laila Bano-Rind)’s energetic personality and brilliant comedic timing made for an array of entertaining scenes and moments within the piece. Cameron Tyler’s Ali Hakim was another hilarious highlight, and Caroline McKenzie’s Aunt Eller grounded the characters and provided delightful relief in some of the play’s darker moments. Luke Hewitt and Sara Reed did excellent jobs in ensemble numbers, with Sara’s dream ballet sequence an incredible moment in the show.
It’d be remiss to credit the show without mentioning the fantastic band playing this show’s memorable score. Musical director Victoria Falconer also did a stellar job rousing the audience and chiming in a few hilarious quips in moments. It’s no easy feat to direct a show in the round, and director Richard Carroll should be commended for his ability to involve the audience from all angles, and create some incredibly moving movements – especially in the show’s second half.
‘Oklahoma’ is a fantastic return for the iconic Black Swan Theatre Company – and in such challenging times, it was incredible to be surrounded in such an intimate space with theatre makers, talented actors and a buzzing audience who were excited to see such an iconic show reimagined.
Photo Credit: Daniel J Grant