AS a nation, gripped by recession, we haven’t had much to sing about recently. However, the exceptionally talented cast of Birr Stage Guild provided us with a gleefully welcome distraction from monetary woes last week as they brought audiences back to 1906 Western Indian Territory and enthralled us with their brilliant production of Oklahoma!
The original Broadway production of this Rodgers & Hammerstein classic opened on March 31, 1943, running for a then unprecedented 2,212 performances.
And sixty-eight years later the cosy and intimate surrounds of Birr Theatre & Arts Centre attracted a full house for six consecutive evenings (March 28 – April 2) as it reverberated to the sound of well known musical numbers such as ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’, ‘People Will Say We’re in Love’, ‘I Can’t Say No’ and ‘Oklahoma!’.
A love story, with a comic sub-plot, this was Birr Stage Guild’s second occasion to stage Oklahoma, the first time being in 1982 at the Marian Hall when Guild Honorary Life President Frank McNamara played ‘Ali Hakim’. Frank recalled back stage mayhem on opening night in ’82, attributed to rabbit fleas that adventurously spread from the costume of Gerry Dolan who played the role of ‘Andrew Carnes’. “The show went on with great scratching and unrehearsed movement, minus the two rabbits who had a very short stage career. I haven’t been able to eat rabbit since,” joked Frank, writing in last week’s show programme. Oklahoma opens on the farm of Aunt Eller (Barbara Hanamy) & Laurey (Audrey O’Meara) where confident cowboy Curly (Shane Broderick) invites Laurey to accompany him to a dance but she doesn’t follow her heart and instead submits to a request from obsessive farmhand Jud Fry (Adrian Sheils).
The menacing, scruffy and stubborn Jud, played superbly by Sheils who first featured with the Guild in 2002, possesses an intimidating aura and after he produces a knife during a violent clash with Curly for the affections of Laurey there are devastating consequences.
Local judge Andrew Carnes (Michael Donegan) is gently persuaded that Curly acted in self defence, despite protestation from Cord Elam (Tommy Lyndon), paving the way for Curly and Laurey’s love to blossom. Audrey O’Meara’s magnificent vocal range meant her performances of ‘Many a New Day’ and ‘Out of My Dreams’ were outstanding.
The former Offaly Rose also starred in the Tullamore Musical Society production of ‘The Hot Mikado’ earlier this year and she and leading man Shane Broderick had great on stage chemistry and presence. The facial expressions and antics of the wily Michael Donegan were hilarious, while Will Parker’s (Darragh Molloy) quest to snare his woman Ado Annie (Aileen Quaid) away from travelling salesman Ali Hakim (Darren Franks) generated plenty of comedy and laughter.
Aileen’s solo ‘I Can’t Say No’ was particularly well delivered and her ‘All or Nothin’ duet with Darragh was one of many show highlights. A talented hurler and musician, Darragh was born to adorn the stage and he didn’t lose his nerve or balance when he sent Aileen into a spin with his daring ‘Oklahoma Hello’.
For Darren Franks it was his first leading role with the Guild and his portrayal of Ali Hakim provided plenty of humour. He deployed evasive tactics, akin to sidesteps Barcelona star Lionel Messi would be proud of, as he tried to steer clear of Ado Annie’s advances, however, he fell into the arms of Gertie Cummings (Sarah Jane Cleary) – she with that loud, annoying, piercing laugh and suddenly we were feeling sorry for Ali Hakim!
There was nothing amateur about this colourful, vibrant, thoroughly professional and hugely entertaining production that was directly by the very experienced AIMS award winner Paul Norton, who has previously performed in musical productions with Tullamore, Clara and Portlaoise Musical Societies.
The orchestra was under the direction of Birr’s Enda O’Connor and choreography was by Julianne McNamara. Set Designer was John O’Donoghue and the atmospheric tension that filled the air around ‘The Smokehouse’ was chilling and sombre, just perfect for the ‘Poor Jud is Dead’ number that Shane Broderick and Adrian Sheils did a great job with. A short review simply doesn’t do justice to the commitment and effort of everyone associated with a slick production like this, so Birr Stage Guild take a deserved bow.
Oklahoma really was a beautiful show.
CAST: Curly – Shane Broderick Laurey – Audrey O’Meara, Will Parker – Darragh Molloy, Ado Annie – Aileen Quaid, Aunt Eller – Barbara Hanamy, Jud Fry – Adrian Sheils, Ali Hakim – Darren Franks, Andrew Carnes – Michael Donegan, Ike Skidmore – Mel Kennedy, Slim – Vincent Liffey, Cord Elam – Tommy Lyndon, Gertie Cummings – Sarah-Jane Cleary, Fred – David Sheils, Mike – Sean Hogan, Joe – Sam Pearson.
Dancers – Lynn Brophy, Lisa Byrne, Amy Kelly, Dawn Lagace, Lynn Kirwan, Katie Masterson, Annette Ryan, Fiona Ward.
Chorus – Noelle Camon, Heather Colohan, Michelle Digan, Lindsey Doyle, Noleen Harding, Mary Horan, Zena Kirwan, Mary Lyndon, John Lynch, Brenda Stephens, Sean Stones.
Director – Paul Norton, Musical Director – Enda O’Connor, Choreographer – Julianna McNamara.