OK is the postal abbreviation for the American state of Oklahoma, and the beginning of a few of the lines of the title song of this Rogers and Hammerstein musical, staple of amateur companies the world over and regularly revived by professionals, including Trevor Nunn’s National Theatre production of the late 1990s, featuring Maureen Lipman and Hugh Jackman, one of three previous Oklahoma’s I have seen, and probably the best.
OK is also a term taken to mean that something is satisfactory, it achieves everything it needs to achieve, it ticks all necessary boxes, does what it says on the tin, but usually only that, and nothing more.
This production of Oklahoma, which is touring the country, is at least OK on every level – nothing is missing, everything is at least adequate, and some things are far more than that. The set is a marvel – beautiful to look at, beautifully lit, functional, clever, adaptive, and full of surprises, even more amazing when it has to be packed away into a truck and erected somewhere different each week. The band, under Musical Director Stephen Ridley, make every nuance of this clever and familiar music come to life, adding extra levels to the long dance sequence at the end of the first half, and bringing a new interpretation to many of the famous numbers, with some delightful swing and jazz touches, as well as subtlety when called for.
What is it that was missing from this slick, tight, highly-professional show? It is hard to pin down, especially given the talented cast and the show-stopping performance by Belinda Lang as Aunt Eller, Gary Wilmot making the most of Ali Hakan, and some beautiful voices, particularly Nic Greenshields as Jud Fry, Ashley Day as Curly and Charlotte Wakefield as Laurey.
I think we are so spoilt locally with such exceptional talent, both on the amateur level, with companies such as BODS bringing Hairspray and Rent to life so vividly to life in Bath over the past couple of years, and professionally, with first class tours from the National Theatre, RSC, Watermill, and West End musicals, that perhaps we expect too much from every single show.
This musical is a standard, full of songs that feature on their own in the Great American Songbook, and hearing them in context can only add to their understanding. This is a great show, performed with accuracy and great competence, and certainly one to see if you have never seen Oklahoma on stage, as it is at least OK, and in some parts, more than OK.