The Gershwin Theatre
222 West 51st Street
Sorry to disappoint, but I was sorry to be disappointed. The most eagerly anticipated revival of the year comes up one major factor short and a number of associated elements miss their mark, leaving Oklahoma! a very nice evening of theater but not the "must-see" that many expected on the basis of word from London, where the revival originated. Strangely, it is one of the highest praised elements of the London production that doesn’t seem to have made the transatlantic transition well. That is the performance of Josefina Gabrielle who, as Laurey, was nominated for an Olivier Award; London’s equivalent of the Tony. She dances the dream sequence herself rather than being replaced by a dancer as has frequently been the case with earlier productions of this play, including the legendary original which is still credited with revolutionizing musical theater with its 1943 debut. While she dances it well, her singing comes up short and that is a serious problem for a show centered on her character.
Storyline: In the Oklahoma Territory in 1907 cowhand Curley is stuck on lovely Laurey but can’t overcome his shyness to invite her to the box social. The consequence of his hesitation is her agreeing to go with disreputable hired hand Jud Fry. The competition for Laurey’s hand reaches tragic consequences, with Jud dead and Curley standing trial for his murder on what should be his happy wedding night. But prairie justice recognizes self defense, freeing the young couple to start their lives in the territory that is about to become the great state of Oklahoma!
Patrick Wilson makes a marvelous Curley, giving vibrant life to songs that have been sung so often its hard to return them to their dramatic place. He gives new life to "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’," "The Surrey with the Fringe On Top" and "People Will Say We’re In Love." His "Pore Jud Is Daid" is not just well sung, it is well acted. But then, he is singing/acting it with Shuler Hensley and there couldn’t be a better foil for the piece. Hensley ‘s Fry is a rich mixture of hateful and pitiable that sets a new standard for the role. Add to the mix, the right-on performance of Andrea Martin as Aunt Eller to round out the key roles.
Secondary roles include Justin Bohon as the charming but dim Will Parker who goes off to Kansas City and wins the $50 he needs to gain permission to wed his love, Ado Annie, but spends the entire amount on presents for her. He dances well in his description of how everything is up to date in the big city and shines in the comic "All er Nothin’" along with Jessica Boevers who is bright and eternally chipper as his love. The traveling salesman he sees as his competition is played by Aasif Mandvi with ethnic humor as broad as he can get away with in this new century, while remaining true to the script which dates from a time when such humor was more acceptable.
The set and costume designs create a theatrical image of the prairie that is as lyrical as Hammerstein’s verbal descriptions – a projection of a hawk really does make lazy circles in the sky and the corn really is as high as an elephant’s eye. The space is filled with the dances of choreographer Susan Stroman which, while somewhat less exciting and inventive than some of her recent work in The Producers, Contact and The Music Man, manage to advance the story and avoid even the hint of anyone dancing just because this is a musical and it is expected.
Music by Richard Rodgers. Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed by Trevor Nunn. Orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett with additional orchestrations by William David Brohn. New Dance Music Arrangements by David Krane. Music Direction by Kevin Stites. Design: Anthony Wad (set and costumes) David Hersey (lights) Paul Groothuis (sound.) Cast: Patrick Wilson, Josephina Gabrielle, Shuler Hensley, Andrea Martin, Justin Bohon, Jessica Boevers, Aasif Mandvi.
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Price range $20 - $90
Running time 3 hours
Potomac Stages Broadway