It took a few years to get here, but on March 21, the praised 1998 Trevor Nunn-Susan Stroman Royal National Theatre production of Oklahoma! will officially open on Broadway, after previews from Feb. 23, at a renovated and streamlined Gershwin Theatre.
People have been opening their imaginations and wallets to the long anticipated production. The show is a hot topic in theatre circles and in theatre-related chat rooms. Meanwhile, the box office pre-sale has risen to $12 million — a record take for a Broadway musical revival, according to a press spokesman for the show.
Patrick Wilson and Andrea Martin head the cast as Curly and Aunt Eller. Joining them are Josefina Gabrielle as Laurey, and Shuler Hensley as Jud. The latter two recreate the roles they played in London, first at the Royal National Theatre and then on the West End.
Audiences attending Oklahoma! may not recognize their surroundings. The Gershwin, Broadway's largest theatre in terms of seating capacity, has been streamlined. To accommodate a thrust stage specifically installed for the new revival, the first five rows of the orchestra were ripped out. Additional seats were lost at the back of the auditorium with the construction of a new wall. In total, the Gershwin's seat count was reduced from 1,933 to 1,670.
"The Gershwin is as intimate as it has ever been," a spokesman said drily. *
Oklahoma! was one of the first of many splashy revivals of classic American musicals which Nunn produced as the artistic director of the National Theatre. The mounting was praised as a fresh rethinking of a show which had over the years become a museum piece. The interpretation's most startling shift with the past involved Susan Stroman's choreography. Stroman was hired with the understanding that she would redesign the famed Act One ballet sequence from the ground up, eschewing Agnes DeMille's famous footwork. In Stroman and Nunn's conception, the actors dance in the show's dream ballets, a break with the tradition of when a "Dream Laurey" and "Dream Curly" would be cast.
Stroman created the 15-minute-long ballet sequence and the sprawling Act Two "The Farmer and the Cowman" number before her recent monumental successes with Contact, The Music Man and The Producers.
Ironically, London's original Curly, Hugh Jackman, will soon be in New York to participate in a workshop of the new musical The Boy From Oz and a concert performance of Carousel at Carnegie Hall. Since playing Curly, Jackman has become a rising film star, appearing in such flicks of "Kate and Leopold" and "X-men."
The production's other principals are: Jessica Boevers, Philia in the most recent Broadway Forum revival, as Ado Annie Carnes; Justin Bohon, a Miss Saigon vet, as Will Parker; Aasif Mandvi, Obie Award-winner for his solo show, Sakina's Restaurant, as "Persian" peddler Ali Hakim; Michael McCarty, with Sweeney Todd and Big River to his credit, as Andrew Carnes; Ronn Carroll, of Steel Pier and Annie Get Your Gun, as Ike Skidmore.
The production originated at the Royal National Theatre in 1998 and twice tried to transfer to New York before finally succeeding. The earlier efforts failed, variously, because of Equity complaints over the all-British cast and Nunn and Stroman's tight schedules. This 2002 staging dovetails nicely with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Richard Rodgers.
The RNT staging broke all box office records at the theatre and transferred to the West End's Lyceum Theatre for a limited engagement. The staging received four Olivier Awards, including Outstanding Musical Production.
The musical marked the first collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The pair would work together for the next 18 years, changing the course of musical theatre history with often serious-minded works that with songs that carried the story forward and revealed character. Oklahoma! was based on Lynn Riggs' play, Green Grow the Lilacs, about innocent folk in the Oklahoma territory around the turn of the century, prior to statehood.
The Gershwin is at 222 W. 51st Street. For ticket information, call (212) 307-4100 or (800) 755-4000.