Grab your partner by the hand for a sharp-shootin’ hoedown.
A new colourful production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s popular favourite Oklahoma! is rolling into Newcastle’s Theatre Royal next week.
At the helm of the thigh-slapping cast is West End star Gary Wilmot and Belinda Lang, famous for playing Bill Porter in 2 Point 4 Children.
It’s a great American classic that’s oft been toured, but Gary says it’s the cast and crew which make this version stand out from the crowd.
“I know the film and have seen a couple of the musicals, and when the job offer came in I thought ‘why would anyone want to do a new production, how can they do it differently?,” he explained.
“Then I found out Rachel Kavanaugh was directing it. I’ve known her a long time and have always wanted to work with her. I knew it would be special with her directing it.
“Then I found out Drew McOnie was the choreographer, who’s absolutely amazing. At the top of their game. It was just too good an opportunity to turn down.
“I’m having a ball in the show and, it’s not often I say this, but I feel humbled to be working with such people.”
Oklahoma! was the first musical written by famous duo Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II. It was originally produced on Broadway in 1943 and the Academy Award-winning film was released in 1955.
“A lot of people remember the film, but there’s a lot of young people in the show and we do have younger people coming along too,” he said. “It’s the kind of show that has the whole package: it’s an incredible story that’s beautifully told.” The cast bring to vibrant life the story of two sets of star-crossed lovers against the backdrop of the Oklahoma territory in the early ’90s.
Cowboy Curly loves Laurey, Aunt Eller’s niece, but Curly’s rival is the mysterious and dangerous hired hand Jud Fry. Meanwhile, Ado Annie is torn between cowboy Will and peddler Ali Hakim.
Their stories are told with the help of some of the best loved songs in musical theatre history, including Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, I Cain’t Say No, The Surrey With the Fringe on Top, Kansas City, People Will Say We’re in Love and the title song Oklahoma!
“This is a long way from a fluffy musical,” said Gary who plays Ali Hakim. “It takes people on a personal and emotional journey, but it looks great too, The girls look fantastic and the men look straight out of the Wild West, like they could wrestle a cow to the ground.
“I take my character off the page, he’s a great salesman, he could sell snow to eskimos, and he charms the ladies.
“He’s supposed to be from Persia but it feels like he says that because it makes him seem exotic and is a better way of him selling his wares. He comes into town with a loud suit and bowler hat and everyone thinks he’s exotic.”
Gary is, of course, no stranger to the stage.
He’s famous for his role as Bill Snibson in Me And My Girl in the West End and later as Tony in the world premiere of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana, as well as many other productions.
Gary says he looks back fondly on his stage debut in 1989.
“Me and My Girl is probably my favourite, because it was my first show and I have such fond memories,” said the performer. “I’ve had a great time in all the musicals I’ve done, but Me and My Girl was a springboard into a world I knew nothing about.
“Before that I worked on the club scene. I was my own driver, my own company. That was the life I knew. Me and My Girl was modern but it retained a sense of variety and I would take the scenes as sketches.
“Someone put a shirt on me and pushed me on stage and I felt at home.”
Despite his wealth of experience, he says he still feels nervous excitement ahead of the curtain going up.
“I still get nervous and it’s different every night, you never know how an audience will react,” he explains. “People say sometimes ‘oh, it’s a bad audience’, but I don’t think that, they’ve paid good money to be there and they deserve entertainment, it’s just some nights it’s easier than others.
“Our job is to make sure that people leave that theatre with a happy memory.”
•Oklahoma! is at Newcastle Theatre Royal from June 23-27. Tickets from £14.50 can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 112121 or select your own seat and book online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk.
We’ve teamed up with Theatre Royal Newcastle to give away a pair of tickets to opening night.
To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question: in which show did Gary Wilmot make his debut?
A) Me and My Girl
C) The Mousetrap
Email your answer and details to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk.
Closing date: June 23.
The winner will be notified on the morning of the show.