"TICKETS for Tuesday night Oklahoma by Witham Musical and Amateur Operatic Society. It's their 50th year . . . make the usual allowances." Those were the orders from the editor but I had no need to make allowances; in eight years of attending amateur productions this was the most outstanding I have ever seen.
David Fletcher in the leading role as Curly stole the show and won the hearts of all the audience with his magnificent singing voice. His leading lady, Pat Harris, playing Laurey, very nearly matched him with a fine, clear voice. Don Walker was effective in his part as' the foreboding Jud Fry, as was Geoff Coverdale in the amusing part of Ali Hakim. Geoff has not got a strong singing voice but always scores well with his comedy. Tim Sheppard was well-cast, as Andrew Carnes and Janet Fletcher made a real "scatty" Ado Annie Cames. Her singing voice was a little weak but her timing and acting perfect. If there was a flaw among the singers it may have been Tom Payton, who played the part of Will Parker. At times his voice was very indistinct.
The chorus was strong and the show was stopped at least six times when the audience showed appreciation of the singing. On Tuesday night the hall was packed out and comments could be heard all round the room, praising the production. A full house brings out the best in any performer.
Mention must be made of the orchestra which played well and did not, as so often happens locally, drown the cast.
The show, produced and directed by Derek Collins, is on again tonight and tomorrow and no more can be said than -:- see it!
Witham Operatic Society may have reached its half-century but there is nothing middle-aged about this week's production of Oklahoma. The stage is instinct with youth and if the company does contain a few senior members they have left their wrinkles and rheumatism at home for the time being and everyone bounds about like two-year-olds.
For me, the high-spot of the show was the opening of the second act, with the full company dancing, fighting and feuding as though they had a stage the size of Drury Lane to act upon. A tip-top sample of Derek Collins excellent work as producer. This time he is joined by Brenda Goddard who not only is choreographer for the colourful ballet but dances the part of the dream Laurey herself.
David Fletcher and Pat Harris bring a touch of freshness to the leading parts of Curly and Laurey and Rita Page adds to her already high reputation with her picture of Aunt Eller. The theatrical career of Geoffrey Coverdale is somewhat paradoxical. Unlike Sir Joseph Porter, Geoffrey started at the top being last year's president. Now he is principal comic and his Ali Hakim, that Persian pedlar of fractured English as well as other things is full of humour.
That suitable case for treatment, Jud Fry, is by far the most difficult part in the play and Don Walker tackles it well. Janet Fletcher makes a pretty, pert Ado Annie and Tom Payton, as her partner Will Parker, needs only a little more experience to gain better projection. Tim Sheppard is an authoritative Andrew Carnes and June Gilbey makes a welcome return to the Witham stage with her giggling Gertie. Jack Wilsher, after laying down the law as, chorus master for most of the season now does the same thing on stage as Cord Elam and, among a host of well-played small parts, John Cave lends a touch of distinction to his Ike Skidmore while Richard Enfield, as Slim, is sound in support.
Six graceful girls who have obviously done their homework as dancers are: Sheila Ferris, Sheila Henry, Hilary Sparkhall, Liz Wood, Minnie Crooks and Yvonne West and they form a charming ensemble. The men of the chorus, not· to be outdone, seek to emulate them but riding the range all day is poor practice for tripping the light fantastic and this is cleverly indicated in their routine to the tune of Kansas City.
Musical director Ken Ferris keeps a firm grip on his orchestra although it is a little intrusive now and then in accompaniment; the scene changes are slick and the lighting is excellent. "As the Jubilee production this is a happy and perhaps pertinent choice for, just like the Oklahoma country of old, Witham too, is becoming the centre of a new colony.
"OKLAHOMA," being presented this week by Witham Operatic Society, is surely a delightful celebration of the Society's Golden Jubilee Production. "//Oh What a Beautiful Mornin//'" sung by cowboy Curly, sets the mood of this gay musical and catches the audience right from the start.
Laurey is delightfully portrayed by Pat Harris - all the coquetry is there and the wistfulness. Both Curley (David Fletcher) and Laurey sing extremely well - I particularly enjoyed David Fletcher's rendering of "Surrey with the Fringe on Top."
Rita Page as Aunt Eller deservedly caps the opening scene on several occasions with a ripe zestful performance. Don Walker takes the part of Jud and maintains it well giving a rustic,, loutish impression with the hint of menace. His song "//Lonely Room//" is moving and well put over.
The dream ballet is well conceived and imaginative. It is beautifully lit and effective with moving clouds projected on the backcloth. Not an easy sequence to manage, but on the whole the dancing is graceful and co-ordinated.
Tom Payton looks and moves right for Will, but unfortunately his voice does not carry too well. However, he makes up for this by some splendid dancing and a good acrobatic turn with Ado Annie, when he shows 'her the "Oklahoma" Hello Kiss. Janet Fletcher is a lively Ado Annie and Tim Sheppard as her father displays his usual accomplishment. A real cameo is the performance given by Geoff Coverdale as Ali Hakim. He exudes the aura of the Persian market with his amorous carpet bagging and raised some well-merited laughter.
The chorus work is particularly effective in the finale and "Oklahoma," dancing is well organised with good grouping, the women being more graceful and agile than the men.
Altogether Witham can be proud of this show which is colourful, lively and accomplished and well backed by a good orchestra conducted by Ken Ferris.