Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! hits the Chichester Festival Theatre stage

Oklahoma pic by Johan Persson
Oklahoma pic by Johan Persson

A real sense of hope and a real sense of adventure reign in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! which is being revived at Chichester Festival Theatre this summer (July 15-September 7).

Bronté Barbé, fresh from long tours as Carole King in Beautiful and Princess Fiona and Red Riding Hood/Blind Mouse in Shrek, is playing Ado Annie – in her first time in Chichester.

Oklahoma! is obviously something completely different to both: “It is at the other end of the scale and it is an absolute joy to do. I saw the film years ago. My grandparents loved Oklahoma! It’s the cardboard cut-out of musicals. This is the one. Oklahoma! is the musical that broke the mould.

“It came out of a lot of vaudeville things that were happening at the time. They put together the dancing and the singing and the acting. I have been reading a really interesting book about how it all came together, and it was such a huge task, such a huge adventure.

“It was really ground-breaking as a show, and people found some aspects of it quite shocking, especially the women.”

As Bronté says, Ado Annie is hardly your run-of-the-mill woman: “Before that, women were mostly the fainting leading ladies. There was an ethereal quality to them. But Ado Annie is very brave and speaks her mind and isn’t afraid of saying what she wants. And what I really love about her is that she doesn’t see that as being naughty. It is just her being her. She is very instinctive.”

All of which adds up to great fun: “Our director and choreographer and all the creatives are really incredible. We have really got a lovely team, and the cast is so talented. It is a joy to watch them, especially the huge dance numbers. They can do anything. I haven’t done dance like that for years. I get to dance a little bit, but I just love (director) Jeremy Sams’ vision for the whole thing.

“What I love is that it is very much to age with the characters. He wanted to keep it fresh. It is about a journey of self-discovery for a lot of people, and really the main theme is hope. In the truth of the piece they are discovering this land. It is the state of Oklahoma being discovered.

“They are on the cusp of something, these people. The reality of how they actually did it doesn’t come into it, but for the musical there is a great sense of adventure and a great sense of how brave they are.

“I have never been to Chichester before. I was waiting!

“Most of my friends have been in shows, but I have been out on tour for about 30 months since I graduated, which is about half the time. I graduated six years ago and I did 20 months on Shrek and then ten months on Beautiful. It was a lot. I loved touring. It was amazing waking up in a new city every week.

It was such an adventure, especially fresh out of college… but I have settled down a bit now and got a house and a partner and a dog, so it is a little bit more difficult now to get away!

“Beautiful (the Carole King musical) was lush. I loved that show so much. I think it was the music really, and it was a very different musical to anything I had ever done before.

“It was a huge challenge, but it was such a satisfying part to play.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat. I hear rumours about another tour, but I won’t be doing that one. But maybe I think revisiting a show would be difficult. You have your memories and you had your cast….

“But I absolutely loved it and I can’t wait to see it again.”

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