Oklahoma! as you've never seen it before

Jud was the most misunderstood man in this here territory.

People used to think he was a mean ugly feller and they called

Him a dirty skunk and an ornery pig stealer

But the folks that really knowed him.

Knowed that beneath them two dirty shirts he always wore

There beat a heart as big as all outdoors

As big as all outdoors.

Lyric from Pore Jud is Daid
 
Arthur Darvill as Curly (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein’s fresh faced version of Oklahoma! has come to London’s Young Vic ready to amaze audiences.  It isn’t quite the feast it was in New York as Covid has put paid to sharing chilli and corn with the audience but there is food for the soul.  This is a musical with the lights on fully with the audience on three sides.  On the walls are collections of rifles and on the far wall, a drawing of farmhouses and rolling fields. 

The seven piece band sits in the playing area and we can watch Tom Brady, the musical director’s youthful enthusiasm for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beautiful music.  The first act had us asking what was so different making this Oklahoma! so controversial?

Greg Hicks as Andrew Carnes, Marisha Wallace as Ado Annie Carnes and James Davis as Will Parker (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Having won a Best Supporting Olivier as Fraulein Schultz in Cabaret, Lisa Sadovy plays Aunt Eller but instead of butter churning there’s husking corn and snapping the cobs in half, for her to do.  As she prepares the corn she singles out people in the audience to look at pointedly. It is the early days of the frontier and Fish and Fein have an altogether edgier view of Oklahoma before it was a state and gun law ruled. 

I have only seen Oklahoma! once before: Trevor Nunn’s 1999 version for the National Theatre with Hugh Jackman as Curly, Josefina Gabrielle as Laurey, Maureen Lipman as Aunt Eller and Shuler Hensley as Jud Fry.  Only Gabrielle and Hensley made it to New York in 2002 after a dispute with American Equity. 

The well known tunes are given a bluesy interpretation by the band with guitars instead of a full orchestra.  This is a homespun feel to the music with a super hoe down in the second act.

(Photo: Marc Brenner)

Besides the innovative, vapour immersed, heavy metal infused ballet, danced by Marie-Astrid Mence, Laurey’s dream that turns into a nightmare, the major difference is in the treatment of Jud Fry.  He is a more sympathetic character with his quiet, brooding presence and I found Patrick Vaill and his isolation attractive, more attractive than Arthur Darvill’s Curly.  Vaill played Jud Fry on Broadway.  Because of the bright lighting, we can watch Jud’s face as the other characters talk about him.

Marisha Wallace is a delight as Ado Annie Carnes. the girl who “cain’t say No!” Her romances with Ali Hakim (Stavros Demetraki) and Will Parker (James Davis) lead the sub plot and of course her singing is of the highest, loudest and most sustained notes.  Remember her in Dreamgirls?  Hakim gives her a “Persian goodbye” but Will is ready with his “Oklahoma Hello!”  Ado Annie and Will sprawl on a long table, legs akimbo for a sexy scene.

Anoushka Lucas as Laurey and Arthur Darvill as Curly (Photo: Marc Brenner)

The second act opens with the dance.  I am never totally happy with the ballet part of the 1940s and 19450s musicals and for me although I loved the rock interpretation of these iconic tunes, the girl in the sparkly tee-shirt was unexpected and incongruous but it certainly ticks the different box. 

The women change clothes to wear tutu short skirts with stiffened net underneath, like bar girl dresses but very, very short.  The men wear cowboy hats and the barn dance fun takes place. 

There is a fully dressed wedding scene with an outcome I cannot divulge but it will make you think more deeply about the character of the principals. 

Arthur Darvill as Curly and Lisa Sadovy as Aunt Eller (Photo: Marc Brenner)

A warning – During the hoe down, I was aware that Arthur Darvill was shaking up a can of beer and I wasn’t ready with an umbrella or a raincoat and I knew it would land all over me.  This has of course coloured my view of Curly, as he relished soaking me and my notebook and I feel obliged to point out that he’s nothing like “as handsome is, as handsome does” as was Hugh Jackman in the role.  I was in B7 but Ali Hakim similarly soaks the B seats diagonally opposite.   One customer has made the Young Vic pay for dry cleaning, allegedly!

So a new, exciting Oklahoma! and my heart went out to Jud Fry. 

Patrick Vaill as Jud Fry (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Original Musical Numbers

Act One

Overture

 Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’

Laurey’s Entrance

 The Surrey with the Fringe on Top

 Kansas City

 I Cain’t Say No  

 I Cain’t Say No  and  Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’

 Many a New Day  

 It’s a Scandal! It’s a Outrage!  

 People Will Say We’re in Love

 Pore Jud Is Daid

 Lonely Room

Act Two

Entr’acte

Dream Ballet

 The Farmer and the Cowman

 All Er Nuthin’  

 People Will Say We’re in Love  (Reprise)

 Oklahoma

Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’  

and  People Will Say We’re in Love

Production Notes

Oklahoma!

Music by Richard Rodgers

Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Based on the book “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynne Riggs

Original Choreography by Agnes de Mille

Directed by Daniel Fish and Jordan Fien

Cast

Starring:

Marisha Wallace

Stavros Demetraki

Greg Hicks

Lisa Sadovy

Ashley Samuels

Arthur Darvill

Rebecca Hinds

Patrick Vaill

Anoushka Lucas

Raphael Bushay

James Davis

Marie-Astrid Mence

 

Creatives

Directors : Daniel Fish and Jordan Fien

Choreographer: John Heginbotham

Co-Set Designer: Laura Jellinek and Grace Laubacher

Musical Director: Tom Brady

Lighting Designer:  Scott Zielinski

Costume Designer:  Teresa Wadden

Sound Designer: Drew Levy

Projection Design: Joshua Therson

Orchestrations,

Arrangements

and Co-Musical

Supervisor: Daniel Kluger

Co-Musical

Supervisor, Vocal Arrangements:

Nathan Koci

Information

Running Time: Three hours including an interval

Booking until 25th June 2022

 

Theatre:

Young Vic

66 The Cut

Waterloo

London SE1 8LZ

Tube/Rail : Waterloo/Southwark

Telephone: 020 7922 2922

Website: youngvic.org

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge

at the Young Vic

on 5th May 2022