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Saturday, June 25, 2016


(Ashley Seldon on extreme left with Qiniso Mkhize & Alyssa Barnes centre stage. Pic by Asok Rajh)

An absolute delight and most satisfying entertainment. (Review by Keith Millar)

The collaborative student production of Roger’s and Hammerstein’s smash hit musical Oklahoma!, which can be seen the Jubilee Hall on the campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal this week-end, is an absolute delight and most satisfying entertainment.

It has timeless and memorable songs, voices which take your breath away, beautifully choreographed dance sequences, colourful period costumes and any rough edges are smoothed away by wholehearted, honest and enthusiastic performances by every cast member.

This production of Oklahoma! is a collaboration between the students from UKZN’s Opera Studio and Choral Academy (OSCA) and six visiting students from the Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas. The musical collaboration between the two universities had its beginnings in the year 2000 when Professor Barbara Hill Moore from SMU came to work with talented singers in Durban and offer bursaries for exceptional singers from our country to study further in America. Since then 20 South African singers have benefited from this initiative. All are now making their mark in the world as performers, tutors and administrators.

Hill Moore has over the years also brought groups of American students to South Africa to mount collaborative productions with local students. Porgy and Bess, West Side Story, South Pacific and Carousel have all been staged.

Oklahoma! was a box-office hit when it opened on Broadway in 1943. It ran for 2212 performances and was the trail blazer for the “Golden Age” of American Theatre. It is set in 1906 and tells the story of the romance between cowboy Curly McClain and farm girl Laurey Williams. There is also a secondary romance between Will Parker and the flirtatious Ado Annie.

The musical features a host of unforgettable songs such as Oh, what a Beautiful Morning, The Surrey with The Fringe On Top, People will Say We’re in Love, All ‘Er Nothing and, of course, the iconic theme song Oklahoma.

The students made the most of this agreeable music with some very good performances. All the dancing, particularly the big ensemble numbers, are also excellent. That in itself is remarkable as the visiting students only arrived in South Africa a little over two weeks ago. What has been achieved in such a short time is extraordinary. Great credit must go to the director/choreographer of the production, Roger Bennett Riggle for this.

The lead roles are shared but on Friday we saw Alyssa Barnes from SMU in the role of Laurey. She has a lovely soprano voice and put in a performance of vulnerable charm. Qiniso Mkhize played the role of Curley with strength and with a pleasing tenor voice. Jud Fry, Curley’s rival for the affections of Laurey, was played by Vusi Simelane. He has a powerful and breathtaking baritone voice.

Oher noteworthy performances were given by the attractive Ashley Seldon (also from SMU) who is playful and vivacious as Ado Anne Carnes, Lindokuhle Ngcobo as the peddler Ali Hakim, Avuya Ngcaweni as Aunt Eller and Siphele Sithole as Will Parker.

As mentioned before, all members of the cast poured their hearts into their roles and played a big part in the success of this project. The ensemble singing is also of a very high standard, with the rendering of the song Oklahoma! being one of the highlights of the show.

The classy live musical backing is provided by David Smith and Jason Smith on pianos, Andile Mthetwa on drums and Sandile Qwabe on tuba.

The Producer and Musical Director is Barbara Hill Moore and the Associate Producer and Chorus Master is Lionel Mkhwanazi.

Taking into account that the performers are inexperienced students, the limited time available to stage the musical and that it was a preview performance, there were obviously the occasional nervous and problematic moments in the production. However, to dwell on them would be churlish as overall Oklahoma! provides a most entertaining and enriching experience.

Oklahoma! can be seen on June 25 and 26 at 14h00 in the Jubilee Hall of the Opera Studio and Choral Academy at UKZN.

Admission is free and the audience is advised to arrive 30 minutes prior to the performance for optimal seating. – Keith Millar