Friday, 27 April 2018

Belinda‘s socking it to ‘em in Oklahoma!

A new production of legendary Broadway musical

A new production of legendary Broadway musical

Oklahoma!
plays at the Wycombe Swan theatre from Tuesday (August 4) to Saturday (August 8). Belinda Lang — who shot to fame in hit Eighties sitcom

Dear John
— stars as Aunt Eller. Here she talks about touring, talent and an unlikely superstitionâ?¦

STARRING in a major musical marks something of a first for actress Belinda Lang, who is perhaps best known for her role in the hugely popular Nineties sitcom,

2 Point 4 Children
.



“I‘ve never done an enormous musical like this before. It‘s an extraordinary experience and I‘m loving it,“ she smiles.

And so too, by all accounts, are audiences, but what does Belinda think is the show‘s enduring charm?

“It‘s based on a play and the fundamental story has a lot of depth to it. On top of that you have two of the most talented writers in their field writing extremely clever lyrics and beautiful music, so it‘s a winning combination,“ she says, likening her character, Aunt Eller, to a matriarchal lynchpin (“She‘s very salt of the earth“).

One of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s most memorable musicals, this new production of

Oklahoma!
is directed by Rachel Kavanaugh with fresh choreography by Drew McOnie.

Based on the Lynn Riggs play

Green Grow the Lilacs
, it was the first musical written by the duo and was first produced on Broadway in 1943. Telling of star-crossed lovers and set in the Oklahoma territory in the early nineteen hundreds,

Oklahoma!
features such standout songs as

Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin‘
,

I Cain‘t Say No
, and

The Surrey With the Fringe on Top
.

Belinda thinks audiences are getting as much pleasure from watching the show as the cast, which includes Gary Wilmot, are getting from performing in it.

“I think audiences are finding it incredibly uplifting and rather moving,“ she says thoughtfully. “It‘s about the young territory of Oklahoma about to become its own state and the pride in the land. And then there is this young couple who try to out-cool each other, but who eventually get together. It‘s sweet and uplifting.“

This version of

Oklahoma!
is touring the country, and while she‘s toured many times before with various productions, a schedule of such epic proportions is another first for Belinda.

“I‘ve never done a really long tour before so it will be interesting. But I am looking forward to revisiting places. Everywhere has their own identity, even though many of the high streets now look the same.“

he is performing at night and for a couple of matinées each week, but how does Belinda spend her time on tour when she‘s not on stage?

“I work, mostly. I do a bit of adapting and translating — I‘m translating a French play at the moment — and I might attend the understudy rehearsal to help.

“I also visit galleries and museums, but really there isn‘t that much free time, especially as we don‘t open until the Tuesday night most weeks,“ she points out, agreeing that finding and booking digs for so many places is “quite a palaver“.

Talking of palavers, theatre is steeped in superstitions. Does Belinda have any little rituals or lucky keepsakes?

“I do try not to be superstitious, but Sam Kelly, a marvellous comedic actor, was in a show with me and he cursed me!“ she exclaims. “I had a terrible pair of purple Tote socks. I don‘t know where they came from as I‘d never have bought them myself, but I used to wear them to pad around the theatre. One day Sam said to me ‘Oh, those are your lucky socks.‘

“Well, that was it. These things became threadbare and fell to bits, but I had to go and replace them with some equally disgusting socks! They are just a slightly different shade and they look terrible, especially because I have a red Chinese robe that I wear in the dressing room. It really isn‘t a good look,“ she laughs.

But if superstition is to believed, those socks are doing their stuff where

Oklahoma!
is concerned. Or then again, maybe it is just the wealth of talent involved in the production that is making it such a triumph. As well as a phenomenal creative team, Belinda readily sings the praises of her fellow cast members.

“I have been astonished by the cast. They are such an extraordinarily gifted group,“ she says. “And then there‘s this extraordinary ballet in it at the end of the first act. We‘ve all sat and wept buckets watching it — it‘s such a powerful piece of storytelling in dance and you know absolutely what it means. It really is beautiful.“

Tickets for Oklahoma! are £23 to £38. To book, call the box office on 01494 512000.



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