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Review: Oklahoma! — beguiling, brave & occasionally contentious

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical is no cinch to sell to a modern audience. So fair play to Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein’s stirring Tony-winning production for shooting for something new.

Oklahoma! Photo credit: Marc Brenner

It does so by bringing bring to the stage a most wonderful selection of songs; it does so in a stark and dynamic version and an ending that needed special negotiations with the Rodgers and Hammerstein estate. 

This is a modern, edgy and disquieting take that injects adventure and sexuality into a classic musical, making it fresh-minted.

Yet, in some ways, not everything works. Some artistic choices are obtrusive and clunky. No overture?

Still, the result is a beguiling, brave and occasionally contentious 3 hours of flying corn, racial tension and lust. Lots of lust. 

Using Daniel Kluger’s plucky arrangements, the nimble 7-piece band keep things ticking over. There’s stunning dance and startling close-up video projection work.

Oklahoma! photo: Marc Brenner

Then there is the design, or rather the anti-design, by Laura Jellinek and Grace Laubacher. They set everything in a sort of sun-soaked village hall with trestle tables and the audience traverse on two sides. There is light – a lot of light. And then sudden darkness. 

For her part, lead cow girl Anoushka Lucas is a star. Her Laurey, stunning to watch is torn between guitar wielding Curly (Arthur Darvill) and shy Jud (Patrick Vaill). 

While containing the giggling frisky Ado Annie (Marisha Wallace), the “girl who cain’t say no”, tears the roof off the Young Vic with her number. 

The Oklahoma! company

Having said all that, this revisionist production is a mixed blessing, but it is a masterful reinvention that should win new fans. The American Dream wins, but at what price?

The Young Vic continues to be an essential theatrical destination.

At the Young Vic, London, until 25 June

Complete Cast Announced for Oklahoma! at the Young Vic

Arthur Darvill

The Young Vic today announced the complete cast for the UK premiere of Oklahoma!  Daniel Fish’s striking revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic musical which originally premiered at the Richard B. Fisher Center in 2015 ahead of its New York premiere at St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2018.
This is Oklahoma! as you’ve never seen it before, re-orchestrated and reimagined for the 21st century. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, Daniel Fish’s bold interpretation transfers to the Young Vic, direct from an acclaimed run on Broadway and a U.S. tour. Oklahoma! tells a story of a community banding together against an outsider, and the frontier life that shaped America. Seventy-five years after Rodgers and Hammerstein reinvented the American musical, this visionary production is funny and sexy, provocative and probing, without changing a word of the text. 
Arthur Darvill plays Curly McLain, with James Davis as Will Parker, Stavros Demetraki as Ali Hakim, Anoushka Lucas as Laurey Williams, Olivier Award nominee Liza Sadovy as Aunt Eller, Patrick Vaill as Jud Fry and Marisha Wallace as Ado Annie. The cast is complete with Raphael Bushay as Mike, Greg Hicks as Andrew Carnes, Rebekah Hinds as Gertie Cummings, Ashley Samuels as Cord Elam, and Marie Mence as the lead dancer.
Oklahoma! is Co-Directed by Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein, with Orchestrations, Arrangements  by Daniel Kluger and Co-Music Supervision by Daniel Kluger and Nathan Koci, Choreography by John Heginbotham, Co-Set Design by Laura Jellinek and Grace Laubacher, Costume Design by Terese Wadden, Lighting Design by Scott Zielinski, Sound Design by Drew Levy, Projection Design by Joshua Thorson, Musical Director Tom Brady and Casting by Jacob Sparrow, with Associate Choreographer Shelby Williams Assistant Director Nimmo Ismail, Associate Costume Designer Rachel Townsend, Associate Lighting Designer Fiffi Thorsteinsson, Associate Musical Director Huw Evans, Dialect Coach Sam Lilja and Orchestral Manager David Gallagher
Arthur Darvill says: “I am thrilled to be pulling up my cowboy boots and joining the cast of Oklahoma. This is one of those parts that comes along once in a lifetime. I feel very lucky indeed to be working on this groundbreaking production with such an extraordinary group of people.”
Anoushka Lukas says: “I feel so incredibly lucky to be playing Laurey in such a fresh, raw and original production of one of my all time favourite musicals. I grew up watching Oklahoma on screen and on stage, so the fact that I now get to be part of this magnificent reimagining (and at the Young Vic!) is a dream come true. I cannot wait.”
Patrick Vaill says: “I can’t wait to share this story and Daniel’s staggering vision of it with this cast and with audiences here. To perform in the UK and at the Young Vic at all, let alone in this production that is so thrilling to play and that I believe in so deeply, is an honor and a privilege beyond even my most wishful thinking. I think it’ll be a powerful experience.”
Socially Distanced performances: 24, 25 May 7.30pm, 25 May, 2.30pm, and 9, 10 June, 7.30pm Audio Described performance: 24 May, 7.30pmCaptioned performance: 9 June, 7.30pmRelaxed performance: 10 June, 7.30pm
This production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! was originally developed, produced and premiered at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College in July 2015. It was subsequently developed and produced by St Ann’s Warehouse and Eva Price at the Joseph S. and Dianna H. Steinberg Theatre, Brooklyn in 2018.