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In 1943, "Oklahoma!" debuted on Broadway, and in doing so reinvented music
theater. Roughly fifty-five years later, Trevor Nunn reinvented
"Oklahoma!". The result is something very rare indeed: a production that
not only captures the original appeal of its source, but also brings new
facets and dimentions to a familiar work.
The story itself remains simple, almost quaint: young pioneers Laurie (Josefina Gabrielle) and Curly (Hugh Jackman), like a prairie-school Beatrice and Benedick, tease, flirt, goad each other, and otherwise go out of their way to avoid admitting their obvious mutual attraction. But hired hand Jud Fry (Shuler Hensley) nurses a much less wholesome desire for Laurie, and his obsession starts to boil over into a serious threat. Meanwhile in the comic subplot, cowboy Will Parker (Jimmy Johnston) tries to prove himself worthy of his sweetheart Ado Annie (Vikki Simon) before her father can marry her off via shotgun to an unwilling Persian peddler.
But presentation is everything, and it is here that Nunn's genius shines through. Gone are the clean gingham gowns and pristine landscapes of so many productions past. The sets have a weathered, hard-used look to them, with a cast to match. One can almost feel the sweat and dust clinging to them. This is a harsh frontier we're entering, where there is certainly joy and laughter but also lots of hardship, poverty, and desperation. It's no wonder so many characters cling to their pride, risking everything on a single grand gesture--their pride is one of the few things they can truly call their own.
The three lead actors are excellent, easily some of the best I've seen in the material. From the moment he strides onstage singing "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'," Jackman is a captivating and fully-developed hero. He brings much of the same cocky bravado that has defined Curly over the years, but balances it with healthy doses of anxiety, bitterness, and sensitivity. Not to be outdone, Hensley's Jud (a creation which quite justly earned him a Tony Award) starts out as a somewhat sad and pitiful creature, but gradually reveals the explosive rage buried inside him. As the woman who comes between them, Gabrielle balances nicely between naivitee and cleverness, and sings in a clear, beautiful soprano.
Of the supporting cast, Maureen Lipman is the standout as that quintessential pioneer matriarch, Aunt Eller. Wise as her years, hard as her life and tender as a sunset, she is the story's moral compass. Simon and Johnston are good, albiet rather conventional in their interpretations. As the peddler Ali Hakim, Peter Pollycarpou is the one false note in the cast, with a huckster attitude and an accent that sounds nearer to Manhattan than the Middle East.
Is this "Oklahoma!" better than the 1955 film with Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones? Arguments will abound for both sides, but at some point the comparison becomes superfluous. The two were created several decades apart, with different approaches and ideas about the story. Suffice it to say, this is and excellent performance, with solid direction, good choreography, and a strong cast. That is recommendation enough.
Re: my one line summary - I was wrong, so very wrong! Minor warning: it still hasn't lost the feel of a filmed stage musical, but the good news is that this fact won't probably impair your enjoyment of this wonderful revival of 'Oklahoma!' I find the cast much to blame. Maureen Lipman is sublime, the best Aunt Eller ever! Hugh Jackman is cheeky enough and masculine enough as Curly, and in astounding revelation to my humble self proves he can sing, truly and powerfully sing. Josefina Gabrielle is a sweet yet wilful Laurey and I just love what Shuler Hensley does with Jud and Peter Polycarpou as Ali Hakim is simply wonderful. Considering that this belongs to the stage and all I still think it deserves a 10 out of 10. Certainly much better than the so-called classic film adaptation. Those films put me off Rodgers & Hammerstein with all their big budget distractions and sometimes poor acting(with singers dubbing the actors or not)to tarnish the beauty of much of their work. This? This is beautiful and does the words&lyrics justice.
This is a wonderful stage production of Oklahoma! As a teaching guide for my drama students, Oklahoma! has everything that I need in it to teach about a musical. Vocally, the actors are wonderful. Josefina Gabrielle has a beautiful voice and range and is lovely as Laurey. Hugh Jackman, from the first note of 'Oh What A Beautiful Morning' grabs your attention and keeps it. Wow what a voice, what a stage presence enough said. Shuler Hensley plays Jud Fry with a passion that allows the audience to embrace Jud and yet despise him tough job to do, but Hensley does it well. Visually, this play uses simple designs and staging, which allows the actors to carry the story and they do an excellent job of carrying the story. Perhaps the lack 'Hollywood' style sets or backdrops may take some aback, but it's the music and the actors that you should notice in a musical. For any one who loves a good musical, it is a wonderful presentation.
I have never seen the old version of "Oklahoma" but I know a pretty good
about it. I saw "Oklahoma" put on by a church in my town when I was
six, but I don't remember much about it.
I really enjoyed this version, the British know how to do musicals! I loved how they made Laurey a tomboy in the beginning to show us how strong and willful she is. Josefina Gabrielle is like a younger, brunette Shirley Jones. She has a beautiful singing voice, she is a beautiful dancer, and a great actress. Did I mention that she's beautiful? I really liked how the actors did their own dancing in the Dream sequence.
I thought Hugh Jackman was amazing. To think that this is the guy who plays Wolverine!!!! This man is is an amazing actor. He's good-looking (very), he can sing, he can dance, and he can really act. He does a very good southern accent. He's also a very believable romantic hero.
Jud was great. That voice...oh my gosh! Such a rich voice, it's like "Lonely Room" was written for him. And Aunt Eller....oh I looove Aunt Eller. She steals the show. She's perfect.
I have nothing bad to say about this show. It's well-done. I just wish Hollywood and Broadway could do more things like this. I got the DVD for Christmas, by the way.
Oklahoma was never my favorite musical. By the time I was aware of it,
Oklahoma & all of the Rodgers & Hammerstein canon seemed dated,
superseded by the darker, more modern Sondheim musicals.
But Trevor Nunn's re-imagining of this American classic makes it so fresh & vibrant, it could've opened yesterday. What seemed sappy in the 50s film version now seems innocent, charming, believable-thanks to Nunn's keener dramatic vision & an exceptional cast.
Hugh Jackman reinvents the swaggering male musical lead with an irresistible magnetism and ability to infuse a song with emotional realness. When he sings O What a Beautiful Morning, it seems totally spontaneous-a young man singing from the depth of his soul his love of life & everything in it-and we feel this song we've heard for decades is being sung for the first time.
The decision to play Laurey (Josefina Gabrielle) as a shy tomboy in overalls, in contrast to the assertive, gingham-clad lasses we've seen in the past, is a wonderfully right one. The attraction between the lovely, thoughtful young girl and the radiantly confident Curly is palpable, and their different temperaments make the parries & shifts of their courtship utterly believable.
Gabrielle is an impressive triple threat-a trained ballerina who is also a good actress and a fine singer. Nunn no doubt wanted an accomplished all-round performer to play Laurey so that the Act I ballet could be danced by the same performers who act and sing the parts-not, as is usually done, by dancing alter egos. That alone makes this famously integrated show that much more integrated, and dramatically satisfying.
As Aunt Eller, Maureen Lipman is tough, wry, funny, touching, wise -hers is the most captivating performance of Eller one can imagine. She is perfect.
Like Laurey, the portrayal of Jud has been rethought. He is still brutal, but you feel the wretchedness, the yearning for acceptance, behind the brutality. Shuler Hensley realizes this brilliantly.
He is one of only 2 Americans contributing to this quintessentially American musical (though all American accents are impeccable, and it's refreshing that the script's phony country pronunciations have been pared down to an unnoticeable level). The other is the choreographer Susan Strohman, whose work here is joyous, spectacularly inventive, and (as in the case of the Act II opener The Farmer & The Cowman) electrifying. The dancing, & there's lots of it, conveys the galvanic energy of these very physical frontier folk. It's thrilling to watch the cast's highly skilled dancers doing numbers that build and build to an explosive rapture that makes you wish you could only be up there with them.
Strohman, with Nunn and their talented, almost exclusively English team, offer us what must be the finest production of Oklahoma ever staged. How fortunate our cousins across the Atlantic have cast a different light on this national treasure, and revealed new splendors it contains!
I loved this film. I grew up on the movie and after watching this version, the movie is flat! I loved Aunt Eller and Hugh Jackman was terrific as Curly. I loved the emotion that was put into the music. Watching this reminded me of what is so good about theater.
As an American, I grew up loving the musicals of Rogers and Hammerstein.
Since I was way too young to see the original stage productions, my
experiences have been through the film versions, such as Oklahoma, South
Pacific and The Sound of Music. On a recent visit to London, I purchased
this video, which had been recommended to me by a British friend. It was
wonderful!!! I was captivated by this production in a way I wasn't with
The entire cast is to be commended for their vivid portrayals of their characters. Josefina Gabrielle, as Laurie, gave me a new view of the character as a tomboy, something that wasn't brought out in the film. Schuler Hensley brought to the character of Jud Fry a deeper insight into his dark and menacing nature. And I loved Jimmy Johnston's portrayal of Will Parker. But it was Hugh Jackman's performance as Curly, that really won me over. He brought vividly to life Curly's boyish charm and his cocky self-assuredness. And his singing voice!!! I had heard Mr. Jackman was an accomplished singer, but I was not prepared for the exceptional quality of his voice. Mr. Jackman is one of the best musical theatre singers I have heard in the last couple of years. After watching this performance, I thought to myself that he would be wonderful in any of the other Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, such as Carousel. I think he'd make an excellent Billy Bigelow.
Unfortunately, this video isn't available to the American public unless you own a multi system video player. I hope this will soon change, because it is definitely something any fan of Rogers and Hammerstein should not miss. It is an excellent new production, and had me humming the title song for days after watching it!
Not that I would ever proclaim heresy against the "original" Gordon McRae movie, but those folks looked too clean - meaning, the main characters are too well dressed, too refined, too ... clean. The London stage production of the play is well set, and the characters look like roustabout cattle drivers, rough-hewn farm hands, floozy girls, and hard-worn ranchers from turn of the century Oklahoma. Shuler Hensley is wonderful as Jud Fry, and Maureen Lipman makes an Aunt Eller you just want to take home with you! The use of a rotating set for scene changes allows for a wonderful continuity of the story Everyone I know who has been involved in a production of OKLAHOMA! on a local theater level (you know, folks like you and me!) say that this is the best OKLAHOMA! ever!
I originally tuned into PBS' broadcast because I was curious about Hugh
Jackman's singing. - He was absolutely charismatic. It was too bad that
Curly didn't have more stage time! I hope I can see him live in a musical
or in a play sometime soon. Film work just does not do justice to his
While I tuned in out of curiosity, the updated production, exuberant musical numbers, staging, and dancing kept my attention. This production of "Oklahoma!" re-affirms my love of live theatre.
I have only just found this website and this thread so I would like to
post my comments about the National Theatre's production of Oklahoma.
I was lucky enough to go to the show at the NT and was absolutely entranced by it all. As most people have said Hugh Jackman was a revelation. I saw the show before he became famous as Wolverine so had no preconceptions about him. I am so glad that he has done so well.
Maureen Lipman was terrific as Aunt Eller. When the video was shot I understand she was suffering from an abcess on her tooth but you would have never known.
Must watch the video again.
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