Oklahoma! – Is the West End Ready For It?
Dream Baby Dream
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first ever musical Oklahoma! is 80 years old.
Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein’s staggeringly postmodern Broadway production, recently seen at the Young Vic, is out to test you, the house lights remain on most of the time.
Basically an anti-musical that just won two Olivier Awards.
The gorgeous re-orchestrations keeps the reworked show moving at an exhilarating canter, and the aesthetic is an intelligent treat. Panache is the pervading motif of this show, which segues into deadpan indie territory.
There is no doubt that Mr. Fish possesses a distinctive sensibility and a consistent visual style, and that instead of striking out in new directions, he tends to embroider and elaborate on familiar themes and motifs. Fish’s style may be high kitsch but the story he is reinventing is dark, elegiac and back to basics.
Throughout, we are in the hands of this ferociously talented cast; we can never relax. This dark production makes a marvelous tribute to a classic musical, turning its horrors into a series of sexual jokes and mischievous gestures.
You can call this intellectual entertainment if you like. You can also think of it as letting the songs speak for themselves.
Arthur Darvill and Anoushka Lewis give this show about a love triangle a good, fast and raucous spirit in a fresh revival that perfectly executes its sombre and upbeat elements. It’s about warmth and territory: “Don’t take my arm too much / Don’t keep your hand in mine.”
Olivier Award winning Darvill is on gloriously wild form as cowboy Curly. On the surface there is a lot more comedy, and sexual tension. He makes it very clear that the nostalgic hankering for showtunes cannot be trusted.
This musical has nothing to do with the art of entertainment, but it has a great deal to do with the craft of art and acting, and the pleasures of performance – Patrick Vaill’s creation of outsider Jud Fry is compelling. And maybe it’s all just too good for the West End.
But those in the mood for a slick, ambitious and unnerving extravaganza can swoon and weep and giggle, too.
‘Dream Baby Dream’ emblazons the glittering T-shirt of the solo dancer during the dream ballet – closer to a nightmare. Cowboy boots drop from the ceiling ad-hoc. Dance is crucial to the show. There are two extended blackouts and stylised video projections among the woodwork.
Playwright David Hare reckons West End musicals are “strangling everything in their path”, and has said it is a “crushing defeat” to have Wyndham’s Theatre without a play. Well, I disagree.
In 2022 I called this Oklahoma! contentious. Now, though, in 2023 and at a plywood layered Wyndham’s, I declare it a deeply pleasurable immersion.
Oklahoma! runs at Wyndhams Theatre, until September 2