“OH what a wonderful evening!”, to coin a phrase taken from “Oklahoma”, the rousing Rodgers and Hammerstein musical currently being performed by Clitheroe Parish Church Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society.
From the overture medley of memorable tunes to the final reprise of “Oklahoma”, the whole production was fantastic. As this action-packed show opened the sun was shining on the farmhouse where Aunt Eller and her niece Laurey Williams live, as handsome Curly McLain arrives singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’”.
Jon Ranwell performs to perfection as the handsome, cowboy with a melodic voice to match , serenading Laurey as she casually hangs out her bloomers on the washing line.
Pretty Laurey, played beautifully by Laura Mitchell, whose voice is light and pure, was making her debut at Clitheroe, but has lots of experience with Burnley Light Opera Society.
Probably no one would recognise Dawn Elliot playing Aunt Eller as she sat possing her washing (I think that is what she was doing) on a stool or knitting in her rocking chair, with hair scrapped back in a bun and specs perched on her nose, but you could certainly hear her. She put her heart and soul into the performance, perfecting the Southern drawl with aplomb and kicking her legs to show her bloomers in the dance routines.
Hooping and a hollering heralded the arrival of the men’s chorus as they charged onto the stage from the rear of the hall. Among them is clumsy Will Parker, played by sixth form student Tobias Illingworth, who cavorts about the stage singing “Kansas City”.
The memorable song “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” was performed by Jessica Hurley playing Ado Annie Carnes. This is young, effervescent Jessica’s debut show and she certainly has a big future on the stage.
As in many of Clitheroe’s shows there is always the obligatory check suit and here it came with the arrival of Ali Hakim, played by Howard G. Raw, a thespian and director of 42 years’ experience, who has performed in Manchester’s Palace Theatre, Opera House and the Lowry and his favourite Blackpool Grand. He played a powerful part, a brash salesman with an eye for the girls, but who backs off like a mouse when Ado Annie makes a play for him.
The action moves to the Smoke House where we find brooding Jud Fry, the hired hand on the farm who also loves Laurey. Jud is played by Damian Marsh, giving an excellent performance of this troubled, mean, man, quite different from his previous comedy roles. In his dirty T-shirt and with grubby hands he fights with Curly, eventually trying to shoot him. Prior to the performance the audience is warned that gunshots will be heard, but even so I jumped a mile out of my seat.
The grove on Laurey’s farm is set on the side of the stage adorned with two apple trees and used as extra stage room. It is here that Laurey falls asleep and dreams of the forthcoming Box Social.
For me this was the highlight of the show, beautifully executed enhanced by the lighting and with perfectly choreographed and performed ballet routine.
The bevy of beautiful chorus girls danced and sang many memorable songs, and sometimes the stage was so full of people it was amazing that no-one tripped up.
The auction of the hampers becomes quite traumatic with first Pete trying for Ado Annie’s affections, encouraged by Ali and Curly, and Jud definitely vying for Laurey’s hand. The outcome is a nasty fight in which Jud is killed.
Eventually the wedding of Laurey and Curly takes place, the surrey with the fringe on top appears and the federal marshall Cord Elam (played by Paul Heyes) is persuaded to let judge Andrew Carnes, played by Mike McKeown, rule it was self-defence so Curly is free to enjoy his honeymoon.
All ends happily with the whole cast singing “Oklahoma” to the rousing applause of the audience.
Among the many memorable moments for me were the perfectly executed dance routines, the tussle with Laurey and Jud and fights with Jud and Curly and also the routine with the girls dressed in feather plumes, basques and suspenders – a treat for the men in the audience. The choreography by Lindsay Pollard was done with flair and elegance. The costumes were delightful and authentic mid-west and it was so good to see so many men in the chorus revelling in their parts.
The orchestra, under the baton of Chris Andrews, also appeared dressed in cowboy attire, and played wonderfully well, and congratulations must go to the back-stage teams, of sound, make-up, wardrobe and scenic design.
As director, Howard G. Raw, brought a refreshing interpretation to the production by injecting more attack and energy and the entrance of the choruses and performers from the back of the auditorium certainly worked with the audience.
As I left, everyone was raving about the excellence of the production.