Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! premiered on Broadway in 1943 and promptly achieved commercial and critical success. Since, the show has received countless revivals and a film adaptation. This current revival, directed by Daniel Fish, opened on Broadway in 2019 to rave reviews, and following a sold-out run at the Young Vic last year, it has made its way to the West End.

Credit: Marc Brenner

Wyndham’s Theatre is unrecognisable with plywood covering the stage and the boxes to represent a dance hall. Lael Jellinek and Grace Laubacher’s set design removes a chunk of the stalls, placing the band at audience level. They are almost an extension of the cast as they sit wearing Terese Warden’s modern costumes, occasionally even interacting with the cast. 

The entire cast remains onstage for most of Act One, meaning conversations between the actors occur whilst the remaining cast members sit watching. At times it is challenging to understand who is supposed to be within the scene and who isn’t, with the lack of changes also making Act One feel like one long scene. 

One of the main differences in this production compared to others is the portrayal of Jud Fry (Patrick Vaill), the outsider. Previously he was portrayed as dangerous, someone to fear, yet here he is presented as someone that is misunderstood, someone that means well, but is complex and fighting his own demons. Vaill has a Kurt Cobain-grunge look and gives a stellar performance, ensuring the audience feels empathy for Jud, which renders the ending even more tragic. 

Credit: Marc Brenner

Fish has retained the traditional manner of portraying Ado Annie’s (Georgina Onuorah) love triangle with Will Parker (James Patrick Davis) and Ali Hakim (Stavros Demetraki), keeping this storyline fun and light-hearted, featuring some hilarious moments between the characters and velvety smooth vocals from Onuorah.

The score has been stripped back, with the orchestra now consisting of only nine musicians. The music is the highlight of this production; the songs truly are remarkable, with divine new orchestrations by Daniel Kluger. Arthur Darvill (Curly) plays the guitar whilst performing, reinforcing the connection between the band and cast. 

Long has Oklahoma! contained a dark soul, but Fish puts emphasis on this, capitalising on tense moments by plunging the auditorium into darkness. Scott Zielinski’s lighting creates warmly lit moments with silhouettes and points where the stage illuminates in one bold colour, elevating the show visually.

The dream ballet sequence is different to previous productions, now with one dancer, simply referred to as Lead Dancer. Anna Maria De Freitas gives a stunning solo combining contemporary dance and ballet. Whilst this is beautiful to watch, it means this part of the show detracts from the storyline, as the relevance to the characters is not as obvious as in previous iterations. 

Credit: Marc Brenner

This production excels in its highlighting of contemporary issues. Oklahoma! displays corruption within the justice system and emphasises America’s lax gun control, as we watch on as the cast easily grab guns from the walls.

I feel the show had more of an impact when performed in the round at the Young Vic, as it was easy to build intensity by utilising the staging. This production includes a few creative choices which feel very artsy, and there were slightly too many moments when the stage was not visible. I believe these could be streamlined, as occasionally they divert our attention from the storyline. However, the cast is impeccable, the score is as gorgeous and catchy as ever, and this should be the blueprint for reviving musicals for the 21st century. Oklahoma! is a show you can’t say no to – so don’t! 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Read all of Amy’s review here

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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