Why director Jeremy Sams stakes everything on youth for Chichester's Oklahoma!

Oklahoma! - pic by Johan Persson
Oklahoma! - pic by Johan Persson

Sometimes you watch Oklahoma! and the cast are all in their 40s.

“You watch it and you think ‘Get a life, dude! Go back to your wife and children!’” says Jeremy Sams, who has gone all out for youth for his revival of the great Rodgers & Hammerstein musical at Chichester Festival Theatre (July 15-September 7).

“I have always felt that this is a piece about young people. People say that Carousel is about life and death.

“Oklahoma! is about the box social (a term for a social event that was widely used in the early 1900s), and that means you have really got to get young people involved in this show.

“It really matters who you are taking to the party and who you are going to meet.”

As he says, you just don’t want to see people the wrong age.

“This show is more High School Musical than Guys & Dolls.

“It’s about kids, and I have really cast it that way. At least three of the company are still at college. We have pulled them out.

“It just means more enthusiasm.

“They are not inexperienced. They have just had more than four years’ experience.

“They are very, very well trained… but it gives us energy. You can incorporate everyone together.

“There is a lot of youth in the company which is fantastic because the piece is all about youth and it is also about the future.

“ They are starting a brand-new state, Oklahoma.

“They are going to farm it and populate it, and they are getting feelings for the first time, feelings of love and sex and anger and jealousy, all these great emotions that they just haven’t felt before.”

And fitting in with that notion of future, Jeremy is intending to make full use of the full extent of Chichester’s huge stage.

He wants that sense of it stretching out before you.

“Oklahoma was the first piece that Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote together, and what you get is the freshness of the new collaboration, but the fact is that each of them had been working in showbusiness for 25 to 30 years, so you have got 50 years of experience in a new relationship.

“And for me, that’s what sums it up.

“It is brand new, but the people that have done it have got massive experience.

“You have got the craft and the professionalism of seasoned professionals, but you have also got the excitement of the complete newbies.”

In the show, handsome cowboy Curly McLain is head over spurs for farm owner Laurey Williams.

But lonely ranch-hand Jud Fry has his sinister sights set on her too.

But Laurey’s not the only girl with cowboy problems.

Ado Annie’s beau Will Parker is back from chasing steers in Kansas City, where he won the fifty dollars her father insists Will must have to marry her.

But this irrepressible farm girl won’t be bought quite so easily.

Luckily for this love-struck crew of spirited ranchers and bronco busters, wise Aunt Eller is riding ahead of the herd…

“I have never done Oklahoma! before,” says Jeremy.

“I am very very close to Rodgers & Hammerstein. I have done Sound of Music a great deal.

“I did The King & I, and I was musical director on Carousel. I know them all like the back of my hand.”

But this is his first Oklahoma! – since his first-ever job, which was playing piano for rehearsals for an Oklahoma! production.

There’s a sense of his Oklahoma! journey having just come full circle for Jeremy...

Tickets for the show, which runs until September 7, are available from Chichester Festival Theatre online via the website at www.cft.org.uk or on 01243 781312.

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