The New York production of Oklahoma! – which opened pre-pandemic – earned rave reviews, picking up the Tony Award in 2019 for Best Musical Revival. The show, directed by Daniel Fish, subsequently opened at The Young Vic theatre in 2022, and it’s this version that has now transferred to London’s West End, opening earlier this week at the Wyndham’s Theatre. It’s a modern staging which breathes new life into this classic musical: with the house lights on full-glare for most of the show and a sparse staging reminiscent of a rehearsed reading, it’s unlike any production you’re likely to have seen of this – or any – show.
There’s a lot to enjoy in this unusual take. In particular we appreciated the music – not only is the band great, but the songs have been re-imagined and they’re all the better for it, with classic tunes sounding fresh and original once more. The cast are talented singers and musicians, too – Arthur Darvill and Anoushka Lucas are both solid as the leads Curly and Laurey, although we actually enjoyed the supporting cast even more. Georgina Onuorah is warm and witty as Ado Annie, and Patrick Vaill makes for compelling watching as the lonely outsider Jud Fry. Liza Sadovy is entertaining to watch in the comic relief role of Aunt Eller.
However, we weren’t sold on all elements of this update. We’d heard whisperings from the Young Vic run last year that this had some bold, radical ideas about staging, design and lighting – and it certainly does. The harsh glare of the house lights – which remain on for the majority of the show – certainly contrasted with other scenes which were lit entirely differently, and that was effective on occasion, but we didn’t appreciate all these decisions throughout. The dream sequence at the top of act two was also an interesting choice – granted it’s not meant to be naturalistic, but we weren’t sure we enjoyed just how stylised it was.
We left the theatre with mixed feelings about this production of Oklahoma! – certainly this innovative take will get people talking, and there are some elements, particularly in relation to the musical direction, which we really enjoyed. It also – sensitively – successfully navigates some dated text and attitudes towards certain characters, which could potentially have been problematic – although some of the themes it explores are still a little uncomfortable. Unfortunately there were numerous times during the performance where we just weren’t quite sold on what it was trying to do. Plenty of enjoyable moments, but something of a mixed bag as a whole.
GAY TIMES gives Oklahoma! – 3/5
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