Oklahoma!, that 1943 Rodgers & Hammerstein masterwork which set Broadway's long-run musical mark back when a five-year run was unheard of, has remained visible over the years although not so omnipresent as the pair's The King and I and The Sound of Music. The show made brief appearances at City Center in the 1958, 1963 and 1965, with Rodgers himself producing an all-new version at the New York State Theatre (up in Lincoln Center). The first full Broadway revival came in 1979 — Rodgers died two weeks after the opening — with a London transplant the following year.
Things remained quiet until 1998, when director Trevor Nunn and choreographer Susan Stroman brought an all-new production starring Hugh Jackman to the Olivier at London's National Theatre. This was a smashing success, resulting in a commercial transfer starring Hugh Jackman at the Lyceum. Broadway plans were quashed in a dispute over the importation of the British actors, as a result of which this sure thing became something less than sure. It wasn't until 2002 that a drowsy facsimile reached local shores, with Nunn and Stroman but not starring Hugh Jackman (who had in the meantime became a movie star via "X-Men").
Watching the show at the Gershwin — with Patrick Wilson as Curly, playing opposite the Laurey and Jud from London — there were three likely explanations. Either (1) the show was vastly overpraised in London; (2) it lost a tremendous amount in the translation (and in the process of recasting and restaging, presumably by assistants rather than Nunn and Stroman); or (3) both.
The 1999 filming of the London production starring Hugh Jackman, now available on Blu-ray from Image Entertainment, suggests that (2) is the answer. Because this production is, all told, very good. It helps, needless to say, to have Mr. Jackman up there. Not yet a star, he was already clearly a star. But the whole show has a life to it which it sure didn't have when it got to New York. Watching this version, the material seems alive (as opposed to merely seeming like a revered classic). "Pore Jud Is Daid" is a good example of this. I expect that it was pretty lively when originally played by Alfred Drake and Howard Da Silva in 1943. And I'd guess that other couples have done well with it, too. Watching Jackman and Shuler Hensley here, though, the song is funny, morbid and bordering on the dangerous; you think, "ah, what a marvelous piece of writing!"
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