Oklahoma

Music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs
Broadway HD / National Theatre

There is more than one way to skin a cat or, more appropriately in this case, cook up a corncob.

At the beginning of the year, when the world was still a safe, normal place, this critic reviewed a superb modern interpretation by Daniel Fish of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma at Circle in the Square on Broadway.

Now, confined to home, he took advantage of a brief free window offered by Broadway HD to see a vintage production that is recognised as a classic. The two could hardly be more different.

Sir Trevor Nunn’s lavish version appeared at the National Theatre in the late 1990s and this superbly judged film version was recorded in 1999.

There are advantages and disadvantages to watching a big production in the Olivier Theatre even on a widescreen TV. Much of the scope is lost, but, in return, viewers get a chance to see the performers in close-up and they excel.

Leading the cast as a couple who are too much in love to say so are triple threats Hugh Jackman and Josefina Gabrielle. Curly McLain exudes surface confidence, while barely hiding insecurities from the camera, while his lady love, Laurey Williams somehow rejects his earnest advances, looking for a little humility and romance.

The problems that they cause each other as a result are manifold, despite the efforts of Maureen Lipman’s Aunt Eller, a wise if comical old soul.

Running in parallel with the difficulties of the leading couple are those of a mismatched trio of simpler folk. Vicki Simon is Ado Annie, a girl who “[I] Cain’t Say No” to either Jimmy Johnston as decent Will Parker or Peter Polycarpou playing the lustful peddler Ali Hakim.

The three-hour drama threatens to morph into tragedy thanks to the sinister presence of Shuler Hensley’s Jud Fry, a theoretically harmless man with dangerous urges.

This is a musical, so all is likely to end well but there are lots of twists and turns along the way.

Inevitably, the main attractions in this delightful version lie in a stream of hummable songs, starting with “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’” and “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” and moving right through to the glorious title song, which brings the video to a satisfying close.

Pulling out all the stops, Sir Trevor commissioned ace American choreographer Susan Stroman, who hits her peak on either side of the interval with a ballet and then an open-air barn-style dance.

The performances are superb, the story as strong as ever, while the songs and dances will inevitably delight fans of the medium.

It is probably too late to take advantage of the free entry but those stuck at home with an evening to kill could do a lot worse than invest in a subscription to enjoy this upbeat classic.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher