|Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 18 November 2003|
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I'm not usually much for musicals. Aside from a production of "Annie" at age nine, I've never been much of a theatergoer. So I'm going to say upfront that I have no real basis for comparison, when it comes to other productions, staged or filmed, of "Oklahoma!"
That said, this is one hell of a good production and a very interesting DVD. Director Trevor Nunn's revival of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's first collaborative effort shines with stellar performances, excellent dance choreography and interesting arrangements of songs that have wormed their way into mass consciousness since the musical adaptation of Lynn Riggs' "Green Grow the Lilacs" first hit Broadway in 1943. And this filmed version --first aired on television -- is a curious hybrid of stage and film techniques. Unlike the BBC-reared audiences of the U.K., Americans are not as familiar with filmed stage plays, so at first the combination of abstract sets which suggest the wide-open spaces of the American West and the language of film -- complete with close-ups, moving camera shots and intercutting -- might be jarring. However, by 20 minutes into the landmark Royal National Theatre production, most viewers will be so captivated by the performances as to hardly notice. The only time the spell is broken is when the production cuts to shots of the London audience, which can be jarring, especially since the film was not made in front of a live audience.
The story follows the lives of settlers in the turn-of-the-century Oklahoma territory, in a time when life on the frontier was hard, but the community was close-knit. The melodrama centers around young soon-to-be-lovers Curly (Hugh Jackman) and Laurey (Josefina Gabrille). Laurey is on the cusp of womanhood, still gallivanting in overalls around the farm she and her maiden Aunt Eller (Maureen Lipman) manage, while her best friend Ado Annie (Vicki Simon) has graduated to frills and corsets and kissing (amongst other pastimes). Laurey and Curly are assumed by the townsfolk to already be sweethearts, and the two resist their attraction almost out of pure stubbornness, until the night of the Box Social to raise money for the new schoolhouse. Just to spite Curly, Laurey has accepted the invitation of farm hand Jud Fry (Shuler Hensley). However, the churlish and uncouth Jud's disturbing obsession with Laurey makes her uncomfortable, and for good reason. Having vivid nightmares about Jud killing Curly and pressing his unwanted attentions upon her, by the night of the party Laurey is wound tight as a spring. Curly and Jud vie for her affections in the form of the box lunch auction, which ends with Curly having sold everything he owns, down to his gun and saddle -- by which he makes his living as a cowboy -- to outbid Jud. This sends Jud into a murderous rage, which results in him crashing Laurey and Curly's wedding, with deadly results.