Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s 1943 Broadway musical Oklahoma! was the first fully-integrated musical play and defined the format of musicals that we still see today.
After a hugely successful revival on Broadway in 2019, a brand new production transferred to London where it enjoyed a successful run at the Young Vic. Now, the production has transferred in to the West End where it is playing at Wyndham’s Theatre.
I went to see the show to decide if it was ‘I don’t want to go Okla-home-a’ or ‘I couldn’t wait to go Okla-home’. Sadly, as I left the theatre and was handed a badge that said ‘ok’, I realised that was the only possible way to describe it.
The cast are amazing – there is no doubt about that. Anoushka Lucas (Laurey), Georgina Onuorah (Ado Annie) and Liza Sadovy (Aunt Eller) were all sublime and Patrick Vaill (Jud Fry) played the psychopath perfectly. Arthur Darvill was great as Curly McLain but felt very much the same as his guitar playing character in Once. Perhaps I’ve not seen enough of his work but it would be nice to see him play a different type of character.
The set design was nice, if a little minimal but I liked the way the auditorium felt like it was in the round (as it was at the Young Vic). The costumes at the end gave a burst of much needed colour to the dreary end and slowed down, miserable rendition of the title song.
The decision to keep the auditorium lights on throughout the show was different and did make more of an impact during the two (well advertised) black outs. Sadly the reason for these extended periods of darkness was lost on me and seemed to be there for the sake of it rather than to intensify the story. I felt the same about the use of a video camera, projecting on to the back of the stage. Where this works in a show like Bat Out of Hell, it didn’t seem to serve a purpose here.
The opening of act 2 is bizarre. A 15 minute modern ballet performed by Marie-Astrid Mence who is not otherwise in the show. This Billy Elliot-esq sequence is made even more confusing when cowboy boots begin to fall from the ceiling and on to the stage with a loud bang. It is explained in the programme notes that this is supposed to represent Laurey’s struggle to decide between the two men she is in a love triangle with – but I didn’t understand that from watching it.
Before I went to see Oklahoma! several people said “oh it’s wonderful, I loved it” but when I explained the above issues I had with it, I found they all agreed with me and so I am unsure why so many people are raving about it.
Oklahoma! is certainly different and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it but as I left at the end I had to pick my jaw up off the floor, trying to understand what I had watched. Perhaps if I returned for a second viewing might make more sense to me but at almost three hours in length, I’m not sure I could ‘okla-handle’ it!
Reviewed by West End Wilma