"The 1999 London production of "Oklahoma!", directed by Trevor Nunn with choreography by Susan Stroman, was the first major departure ever from the original Joshua Logan-Agnes De Mille production of 1943. It was a gamble that paid off big, for the performance recorded for posterity on this DVD is absolutely brilliant--funny, riveting, and deeply poignant. The dancing is astonishing, and the beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein songs have never sounded so good. Nunn and Stroman know how to stage each number for maximum dramatic effect, so that the songs come across less as songs than as dramatic monologues in music--which is, of course, exactly what Rodgers & Hammerstein wanted. The cast of this version is so wonderful that it is impossible to talk about them in anything but superlatives. (I might make a slight, regretful exception for Vicki Simon as Ado Annie, who is merely very good whereas everyone else is spectacular.) As Will Parker, Jimmy Johnston--an endearing if improbable cross between Will Rogers, Russ Tamblyn and Jack Black--barrels through his big number, "Kansas City," with infectious glee and astounding athleticism, including a dandy exhibition of trick roping. Some reviewers have pointed out that Peter Polycarpou's accent as Ali Hakim is shaky, but there's no quibbling with his singing or his comic timing; in appearance and talent, he reminds me more than a little of Tony Shalhoub. Maureen Lipman is a perfect Aunt Eller, tough as an old birch tree, plain-spoken and drily witty as she dispenses tough love to the residents of Claremore, Okla. Josefina Gabrielle is an earthier Laurey than we're used to, but she's a good singer and an exquisite dancer, and she makes Laurey's confused longings as painful as a punch in the gut. The real acting honors, however, must be divided between the romantic rivals--Hugh Jackman as Curly and Shuler Hensley as Jud. This production launched Jackman's international career, and no wonder--from the first few bars of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," you can't take your eyes off him. He is visually perfect as Curly, he dances well and sings beautifully, and--above all--he exudes charisma from every pore. Hensley combines a rich, operatic baritone with a brooding, menacing stage presence; he makes Jud a classic monster, evoking both pity and terror. His solo number, detailing both his pitiful loneliness and his doomed love for Laurey, is one of the most riveting pieces of dramatic singing I've ever seen or heard."
The classic American musical gets the Trevor Nunn touch
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 06/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Every time I watch a version of "Oklahoma!" there are two conclusions that I always reach. The first is that there is no greater chorus in the American musical than the title song from this show. No wonder as soon as it is finished the cast does it again and then for good measure does it at the end of the curtain calls. It always gives me chills when they do the big finish and it occurs to me that the song "Oklahoma" is our secular equivalent of "The Hallelujah Chorus." The second inevitable thought is that Shirley Jones had a truly great singing voice, perfect for musical theater. Any one who plays Laurey Williams is going to suffer in comparison when it comes to the singing (the test case remains the same: the end of the reprise of "People Will Say We're in Love."That is not to say that this 1999 London Stage Revival of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is not impressive. Director Trevor Nunn restores the full text and you can see why Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were both interested in turning Lynn Riggs' play "Green Grow the Lilacs" into a musical. It might seem strange to say so, but one of the strengths of this production is that the acting is so solid. The comic relief characters like Will Parker (Jimmy Johnston), Ado Annie (Vicki Simon), and Ali Hakim (Peter Polycarpou), are given more gravity without sacrificing the humor. Of course, part of this is because the show was not really filmed before a live audience, even though there are applause and shots of the audience from the stage at the end of most of the musical numbers. So never is heard a laugh from the audience during the proceedings, which necessarily gives more weight to the characters and the action.Hugh Jackman is the main attraction as Curly McLain, mostly because fans have problems believing this is the guy who plays Wolverine in the "X-Men" movies, although having just won the 2004 Theater Wings Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award for portraying singer Peter Allen in the Broadway version of "The Boy From Oz" should establish his bona fides in this regard. Josefina Gabrielle plays Laurey Williams as more of a tomboy, and if her singing is solid but unspectacular, her acting and dancing bring some new dimensions to the character as well. The dream ballet has the novelty of being the first major production in which Curly and Laurey do their own dancing. There are those who do not care for the sequence on principle, but having it here as the end of the first act makes for effective foreshadowing. It is hard to think there could ever be a bad Aunt Eller, and Maureen Lipman shows how well the role can work when it is underplayed. But I think the standout performer here has to be Shuler Hensley as Jud Fry (Hensley played the Frankenstein Monster to Jackman's vampire hunter in "Van Helsing" this summer). The character is the villain and he never seems to quite work in most of the version of "Oklahoma!" I have seen. But Hensley brings a subtlety to the role that really makes it work. You get a sense of how he is dangerous without him being overtly threatening; in other words, you can understand why Laurie would consider him, even if only for a moment. Having such a strong performer in that role really elevates the show."Oklahoma!" holds up really well, provided you are open to what we would not consider to be an old-fashioned musical (anything by Rodgers & Hammerstein and/or before Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber), and Nunn deserves a lot of the credit for crafting this production. The only serious complaint with the DVD is that all we have on the Bonus Disc is a 24-minute featurette on the production. While that has its moments (the Rodgers & Hammerstein people are actually puzzled as to why Nunn wants to do the show, as if the British have no understanding or respect for the classics) it is hard to believe they could not fit it on the other disc. In comparison, the "Mystic River: Bonus Disc" has 189 minutes of material."
metraton | Fort Worth | 04/03/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I just watched this on PBS and ran immediately to the computer to order the DVD. I grew up working in local summer stock and community theatre--went on to major in theatre in undergrad before going to grad school for something more consistent with regular work. I worked on or was in a couple of productions of Oklahoma, and have seen several--some great, some not. I have always appreciated the wonderful music and the nearly operatic tone of the show. But before tonight, I had never seen this theatrical classic ACTED. It was spellbinding. Who knew what a great piece of drama this show could be? And for icing on the dramatic cake, the dancing was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers quality, and the vocal performances were the best, in aggregate, I've ever even heard ABOUT. The character of Jud Fry worked in ways I never new it could, due to inspired direction and a tour de force performance. Laurie and Curly actually dancing the dream ballet themselves removed a perenial speed bump in the show. Everything--just EVERYTHING works in this production. For me this is the definitive Oklahoma, and therefore the definitive musical theatre piece. If this wasn't what R and H intended, it should have been. It is a different show than the one I thought I knew. What a production! I can't wait for the DVD to get here so I can watch it again. Wow!"
Josephine M. Taravella | CA | 03/27/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've been a fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein for years, but Oklahoma was far from my favorite R&H show. The fifties Hollywood version always dissapointed me, I always thought the characters were so cardboard and one dimensional and the story so trite. Then one night I caught the second act of the London Stage Revival during a PBS pledge drive and had to get this. This is the reason I love musicals. This version enchanted me. The story was ACTED and acted so well. The dancing was rousing, robust and masculine. I haven't seen anything to top Seven Brides for Seven Brothers until now. I defy anyone to declare that the dancing in The Farmer and the Cowhand is sissified or to be able to sit still watching it. All the performers are wonderful, but Skyler Hensly is the quintesential Jud and Hugh Jackman is the essential Curly. He may not sing as well as Gordon McCrae but he makes up for it in making Curly a real character. Run and get this version!!!"
Americana on the Plains
M, Compulsive Reader | Santa Cruz, CA | 03/24/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"High-energy encapsulation of the American spirit in this tough-tender production. Done lean and hard-scrabble, as opposed to the lush and green Hollywood version. Curley really is as wonderful as he sings he is. Aunt Eller, the matriarch, as done by Maureen Lipman is tough, and loving. Jimmy Johnson, the Welshman, jigs and does rope-tricks. Shuler Hensley's Jud is repulsive, and vulnerable. A classic. For your permanent library. "