Theater Review: Oklahoma! at Young Vic

A popular classic of American musical theater, Oklahoma! was the first show written by this great duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. First performed in 1943, it’s a “sun-soaked, stormy, hackneyed tale of beefcake cowpokes and wholesome farm girls,” said Sam Marlowe in the i news site. “But not this time.” In Daniel Fish’s “freshly exciting” production—a Tony-winning hit in New York—those “boundless blue skies have a habit of going dark.”

Gone is the “hokiiness of previous, embellished versions,” said Nick Curtis at the London evening standard. Instead we have a stripped back aesthetic, a dance that has a “wild, stomping, careless edge” and a “rigorously questioned” score that sounds “absolutely fresh.” It’s a “breathtaking reinvention.”

A “more thorough rethinking of Rodgers and Hammerstein” will probably never be seen, said Sarah Crompton What’s on the stage. From the moment you step into the brightly lit performance space shared by the cast and audience – a space “hewn together out of blondwood” with guns mounted on the walls – the Oklahoma! destabilizes and surprises you.

The production’s “genius” is in “locating the tenacity at the heart of this story” about a pioneering community poised to achieve their statehood in what was once Indian territory. Every character, scene, and song is treated as if it were newly coined, “revealing their complexity and contradiction.” It’s a great reappraisal that both confirms the “greatness of the musical” and casts it in a whole new light. I think it’s a masterpiece.”

The production has a serious upside, and in New York some critics found it overbearing, but it’s far from ponderous, Dominic Cavendish said in The Daily Telegraph. There’s “abounding playfulness, comedy, and mind-blowing showstoppers.” Reinterpreted for a small band, the music has a down-to-earth folksyness that works “brilliantly”. And the performances are all excellent. “Oklahoma, OK” runs a line in the musical’s theme song. But this Oklahoma! is way better than that. It’s “KO, KO”.

Young Vic, LondonSE1. Until June 25th Theater Review: Oklahoma! at Young Vic

Fry Electronics Team

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