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Robert Tanitch reviews Oklahoma! at Young Vic, London

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein Oklahoma! premiered in New York in 1943. It was an important milestone in Broadway musical history and ran for 2,212 performances.

Last time London saw it Oklahoma! was at the National Theater in 1998 directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Hugh Jackman.

The first thing to say about the current revival is that it is not a major Broadway musical production. Something rougher and more serious, something more intimate and haunting was attempted; perfect for a venue like the Young Vic, but not always so good for Rodgers and Hammerstein

The show, which was directed by Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein and originally staged on Off-Broadway, has been rethought and withdrawn. It’s on a small scale; small orchestra, small company, no choir, no space. Your concept is an interesting exercise that doesn’t always work.

Young Vic’s auditorium is completely unrecognizable. The theater was converted into a barn. The stage is across. There are only chairs and tables with food. The cast is sitting around. You stamp on the plywood boards. The audience can sometimes be as lit up as the singers. Two scenes take place in a complete blackout.

The band is on stage with the cast. The songs we know so well are all there – O what a beautiful morning”, The surrey with the fringe on top, Kansas City, I can not say noThe farmer and the cowhand, People will say we’re in love, Oklahoma! – but the score was completely re-orchestrated by Daniel Kluger and the songs sound very different.

There are two love stories. Laurey (Anoushka Lucas) is loved by Cowboy Curly (Arthur Darvill) and farmhand Jud (Patrick Vaill). Davis and Vaill repeat their performances in New York. Jud is a much more likable character than in the past. He doesn’t accidentally fall on his own knife during a fight. He is shot by Curly.

Meanwhile, Ado Annie Carnes (Marisha Wallace) takes on the naïve Will Parker (James Davis) and the peddler Ali Hakim (Stayros Demetraki) in a different musical comedy tone. Wallace ends the show with I can not say no.

Agnes de Mille’s choreography was integral to the success of Robert Mamoulian’s original 1943 Broadway production, which became famous for the legendary 15-minute dream ballet. There’s a ballet at the Young Vic, but it’s a solo performance to a distorted, screeching score. Marie-Astrid Mence dances mentally, sometimes in the smoke, sometimes in the dark.

Oklahoma! was the first time Rodgers and Hammerstein worked together. You would keep writing carousel, South Pacific, The king and I and The sound of music, all still as popular as ever and revived regularly. Chichester Festival South Pacific will be touring the UK this autumn.

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Robert Tanitch reviews Oklahoma! at Young Vic, London

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