Day fills Keel’s boots, a treat

How comforting it is to know that at least some things in life provide exactly what they promise on the tin.

So when the label shouts ‘Oklahoma’ – and let’s face it, Oklahoma is never whispered – you know exactly what you are going to get.

First of all there are the catchy tunes and memorable lyrics of Rogers and Hammerstein, second there is the full-on dancing of those preposterously happy farmhands, and third the trio of love stories around which the production centres.

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All stays the same wherever this energetic musical stages, but what most concerned me as I took my seat was how anyone could replace Howard Keel. For the uninitiated, Keel played leading man Curly in the film version and had the chiselled good looks and phenomenal voice to keep women of my mother’s generation rapt.

I need not have worried.Ashley Day’s strong, confident vocals were convincing from first note to last.

He has great stage presence and, alongside the equally vocally talented Charlotte Wakefield (Holly in Holby City), who plays love interest Laurey, he delivered a flawless performance.

Set in the Midwest in 1906, Oklahoma could have focussed on a story of politics and hardship.

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Thankfully, Rogers and Hammerstein thought better of serving up an unpalatable reality show.

Instead a show packed with great songs, witty one-liners from Gary Wilmot in his role as Ali the pedlar, and furious-paced dance routines.

Look out too for Belinda Lang (Bill in 2point4 Children) whose take on Aunt Eller is sharp and entertaining, and Lucy May Barker as Ado Annie, who interpretation of ‘ditsy’ should be bottled.

And finally take note of Nic Greenshields as Jud Fry who is charged with playing the only character who brings a negative vibe to the production.

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His glowering presence and angry demeanour dominate the scene between him and his love rival Curly – and when he opens his mouth to sing, you just have to listen to that rich, brooding voice.

A great cast and a sparkling production; what’s not to like?

Joyce Bishop

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