As refreshing and thrilling as the day it was written, a new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Oklahoma! is set to appear at the Theatre Royal Bath from Monday 18th to Saturday 23rd May as part of a major national tour. This original feel-good show is overflowing with well-known songs – from the unforgettable opening chorus of Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, to the rousing title number, Oklahoma – audiences can look forward to an emotional journey down love’s highway with classic tunes and stunning choreography.
The hugely talented cast and chorus are led by Belinda Lang (School for Scandal, Ladies in Lavender, 2 Point 4 Children) as Aunt Eller, Gary Wilmot (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Pajama Game, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) as Ali Hakim, Ashley Day (The Book of Mormon, The Wizard of Oz, High School Musical) as Curly, Charlotte Wakefield (The Sound of Music, Mamma Mia!, Spring Awakening) as Laurey, and Nic Greenshields (Guys and Dolls, Billy Elliot, The Phantom of the Opera) as Jud Fry, accompanied by a live orchestra led by musical director Steve Ridley.
Celebrating the vigour of America’s pioneering spirit and perfectly integrating song, dance and story, this blockbuster tale of two sets of star-crossed lovers is set in the Oklahoma territory in the early 1900s. Happy go-lucky cowboy Curly loves farm girl Laurey, Aunt Eller’s niece, but Curly’s rival is the mysterious and dangerous hired hand Jud Fry. Meanwhile, Ado Annie is torn between cowboy Will and peddler Ali Hakim. Their stories are told with the help of some of the best-loved songs in musical theatre and a sumptuous and rousing score, which also features I’m Just a Girl Who Cain’t Say No, Surrey With a Fringe on Top, Kansas City and People Will Say We’re in Love.
With music by Richard Rodgers and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Oklahoma! was the first musical written by the duo. Based on the Lynn Riggs play Green Grow the Lilacs, the original Broadway production opened in 1943 and was an immediate box-office smash, winning Rodgers and Hammerstein a Pulitzer Prize. The duo went on to create a host of legendary shows including Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music. In 1955 the film adaptation of Oklahoma! won an Academy Award. It remains one of the best-loved musicals of all time, and was awarded a special Tony Award in 1993 on its 50th anniversary.
A favourite with Bath audiences, Belinda Lang has performed at the Theatre Royal many times, most recently in Ladies in Lavender in 2012. She also starred in and directed Present Laughter in 2010 and The Reluctant Debutante in 2011, both productions which toured to Bath. Her extensive stage work has ranged from playing opposite Judi Dench in Hay Fever in the West End to starring in The Killing of Sister George at the Arts Theatre, and, most recently, in The School for Scandal at London’s Park Theatre. Well-known on television for her long-standing role as Bill in the popular BBC comedy series 2 Point 4 Children; her many screen credits also include Citizen Khan, To Serve Them All My Days, Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, Dear John and The Bretts. Her previous performances in Bath also include leading roles in A Song at Twilight in 2009, An Hour and a Half Late in 2006, My Boy Jack in 2004 and Life x 3 in 2001.
Gary Wilmot’s numerous West End credits include the acclaimed 2014 production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Goodbye Girl – which also toured to Bath in 1998, Copacobana and Me and My Girl. He also starred in The Pajama Game and Carmen Jones at London’s Old Vic, Chicago and Half a Sixpence on UK tour, Radio Times at the Watermill Theatre, and One for the Road at the Bristol Old Vic. A household name since the 1990s when he presented the BBC’s Showstoppers television series, Gary’s many screen credits also include Cue Gary, You and Me, Copy Cats, Lazarus and The Royal Variety Performance. His previous appearances at the Theatre Royal Bath also include Confusions in 2001, With Compliments in 2008 and Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime in 2010.
Twice Olivier Award nominated Charlotte Wakefield starred as Maria in The Sound of Music at Regent’s Park Theatre in 2013 – also directed by Rachel Kavanaugh – for which she received an Olivier Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. She played Sophie in the West End production of Mamma Mia! and the lead role of Wendla in the Lyric Hammersmith’s much-talked about West End transfer of the rock musical Spring Awakening – receiving her first Olivier Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical in 2010. Her television credits include Holby City, Waterloo Road, Occupation alongside James Nesbitt, and The Royal. Charlotte’s career began when she starred as a ten-year-old evacuee, in the title role of the film An Angel for May, alongside Tom Wilkinson and Geraldine James, broadcast on Christmas Day 2002.
Ashley Day has performed in the West End productions of The Book of Mormon, The Wizard of Oz, Evita and Mary Poppins. He toured the UK playing Troy in High School Musical, performed in On the Town for English National Opera and toured nationally in Matthew Bourne’s staging of The Nutcracker. Nic Greenshields has performed in the West End productions of Billy Elliot, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and The Beautiful Game. At the Royal Opera House he appeared in Into the Woods and he toured the UK in Cats and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Lucy May Barker plays the role of Ado Annie with James O’Connell as Will Parker, Paul Grunert as Andrew Carnes, Kara Lane as Gertie Cummings, Christopher D Hunt as Cord Elam and Barnaby Thompson as Ike Skidmore. The cast is completed by Simon Anthony, Christina Bennington, Robbie Boyle, Katie Marie-Carter, Lisa Dent, Emilie du Leslay, Ian Gareth-Jones, Hannah Grace, Ross Lee Fowkes, Perry O’Dea, Sasi Strallen and Gabriella Stylianou.
From the award-winning producers of the highly successful tours of The King & I and Fiddler on the Roof, Oklahoma! is directed by Rachel Kavanaugh and with new choreography by Drew McOnie, set and costumes are designed by Francis O’Connor, with lighting by Tim Mitchell and sound by Ben Harrison.
Rachel Kavanaugh is former Artistic Director of the Birmingham Rep. Last autumn she directed An Ideal Husband starring Edward Fox and Patricia Routledge at Chichester Festival Theatre. Her many other credits include The Sound of Music at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Love Story for Chichester and in the West End, and The Merry Wives of Windsor for the RSC. Drew McOnie’s choreography credits include The Sound of Music and Chicago for Leicester Curve, Soho Cinders at the Soho Theatre, and Dames at Sea and On the 20th Century at London’s Union Theatre. He recently launched his own theatre dance company, The McOnie Company.
Oklahoma! appears at the Theatre Royal Bath from Monday 18th May to Saturday 23rd May. Tickets are available from the Theatre Royal Bath Box Office on 01225 448844 or online at www.theatreroyal.org.uk
Photos by Pamela Raith