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Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! (London Stage Revival): Reviewed

Author:Rogers and Hammerstein  
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:musical
Year of publication:1999

X-Men have been, and remain, our favorite super-heroes. We watch the movies; have not gotten into the comic books. Have recently also enjoyed Hellboy. Some of us really admire The Incredibles (but some of us do not).

We must write our homage to X-Men someday. After all, this is a group that thinks that hiding out in a school for the gifted will somehow shield its members from bullies. A creative, if foolish, concept.

Plus, they have both Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman. And very cool superpowers. And great special effects.

We are waiting with great anticipation for the release of the latest X-Men movie, Wolverine. Although, judging from the previews, it's probably going to be depressing as anything. And meanwhile, since we love and admire Hugh Jackman (have started watching Australia), and we love and admire musicals, we sat down and watched this production of Oklahoma.

Plot spoiler alert: plot spoilers follow below...

As we have pointed out before, Broadway musicals, at least the good ones, are much more than song and dance. Musicals' pretty costumes and music often disguise powerful messages.

Oklahoma is an odd one -- the messages are truly of their original time -- 1955.

  • There's a guy named Jud. He's got some unattractive habits. (Kind of like the X-Men -- they accidentally kill you with their thoughts, he impulsively brandishes switchblades.) Plus no one normal likes him. (Kind of like the X-Men, huh?)
  • Then there's Laurey, Jud's young woman employer. She is not yet ready to commit herself to her true love, Curly, and instead teases Curly by agreeing to let Jud take her to the barn-raising. Teasing is not nice. And so Laurey gets everyone into real trouble.
  • There's also a loose woman and the two men who love her -- Will Parker (a cowboy) and Ali Hakim (a Persian peddler, played with an accent that seems to waver between NY and who knows where by Peter Polycarpou). Wow, Persian. Put there in the 1950s. An outsider from the Middle East with enough money to buy whatever he wants, but -- perhaps we shouldn't let our women get involved with guys like him. And yes, Ali Hakim IS Persian in the original.
  • And "Why is it that Aunt Eller runs the town? Did any woman wield that kind of power in those days?," my daughter didn't think that was in any way realistic. I speculated about there not being many women surviving childbirth into "old age" in the days before OK statehood; but then, in this production at least, there are a LOT of women -- they overwhelm the wedding scene, for example.
So how DO our musical Oklahomans deal with this bully? (Even if he's one that they've sort of created. Or, maybe he's just crazy and not really their responsibility, just a problem for them to dispose of?)

If you are Curly and just want Jud gone, perhaps you sidle over to Jud's hovel and sing him a song encouraging him to suicide. ("Is this FORESHADOWING?," my daughter asks.) And when that does not work, you and Laurey try various other things, all of which end up infuriating the bully further. And then .... Go here to skirt spoilers

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You accidentally kill the guy (see! it WAS foreshadowing) in self-defense, stage a trial in a convenient venue, are let off in seconds (since everyone, even the farmers, KNOWS for sure that the murder was in self-defense), and then you get on with your happy life. You settle down and become a farmer. Oklahoma settles down and becomes a state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What DID we actually think of this version of the musical?

Well, the famous songs are famous for a reason. The choreography is by Agnes del Mille. My daughter found it a bit intrusive. "So now here comes the next DANCE number." Laurey's dream sequence is VERY disturbing. Hugh Jackman does not disappoint. Shuler Hensley, who plays Jud Fry, has a remarkable voice and keeps us vacillating between sympathy and digust for his character.

The filming decisions were odd too. We see the audience clapping after most scenes, and that is ok. And we get to see SOME of the stagecraft (much is made of the revolving stage). But the peeks into the stagecraft made my daughter want to see MORE of the stagecraft, and she came to doubt that we were actually seeing the musical as it was presented to a real live audience. We noticed some shoe changes -- boots to toe shoes to boots -- that we found very confusing.

Should your sophisticated children watch Oklahoma? If they have an interest in musical theatre, absolutely. But, beware: Musicals' pretty costumes and music often disguise powerful messages. And the messages of Oklahoma are -- hmmm -- disquieting. As messages of musicals often are.

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Other reviews: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! (London Stage Revival)
 
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