There may well be a bright golden meadow at the opening of Rodgers and Hammerstein's first, genre-busting Broadway hit from 1943, but Rachel Kavanaugh's touring revival for the Music & Lyrics company and the Royal & Derngate Northampton proves there's a dark heart there too.
While hardly Twin Peaks, the small town in what is still regarded here as 'Indian Territory' but which is about to become the state of Oklahoma in this turn of the twentieth century tale based on Lynn Riggs' 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs, is riven with conflict beyond the infectious optimism that infects most of its residents. While this is never overdone in Kavanaugh's starry, wide-open production, it's played appealingly straight, despite some of the most infectiously jaunty songs ever penned for musical theatre.
The first act beams into view with Ashley Day's twinkly-eyed Curly and Charlotte Wakefield's independent minded Laurey leading each other on a merry dance towards wedded bliss, the odd tragedy notwithstanding. Lucy May Barker's more physically inclined free spirit Ado Annie meanwhile finds herself even more torn between James O'Connell's safe as houses cowboy Will and Gary Wilmot's fly-by-night huckster Ali Hakim. With the burgeoning conflicts between the cowmen, the farmers and the merchants set to define American capitalism for the next century, Nic Greenshields' porn-addicted sociopath Jud is the ultimate outsider, with his song Lonely Room a bedsit anthem in waiting.
While choreographer Drew McOnie's end of Act One Dream Ballet is worth the ticket price alone, Stephen Ridley's ten-piece band navigate all this with a winning ebullience that suggests a brave new world for all is just beyond the horizon.
The Herald, April 24th 2015