They’ve opened the vaults on a fabulous filmed version of Hugh Jackman, singing and portraying Curly in the Rodgers and Hammerstein evergreen, “Oklahoma.” Oh, what a beautiful musical!
I took in a matinee screening of this cinematic treat at the Kahala Theatres, where the classic will be shown one more time, at 7 p.m. Wednesday (July 19). It’s part of a national celebration to herald Rodgers and Hammerstein’s very first musical, “Oklahoma,” conceived 80 years ago, which was superstar’s Jackman first stage production in London 30 years ago.
Of course, Jackman also starred in two Broadway shows since, winning a Tony for portraying Peter Allen in “The Boy From Oz” in 2004, and setting box office records, grossing $3 million-plus a week last year, starring as Prof. Harold Hill in “The Music Man.”
But trust me, make time to go see Jackson in this special revival marking the milestone. What a revelation!
Hugh Jackman as Curly in “Oklahoma’: Oh what a beautiful voice.
Youthful and handsome, effusive and expressive, he is amazing and alluring as a cowboy in this frontier musical, taped in 1998 in the West End, with an unheralded DVD released some years back. What a find!
From the moment his voice is heard on the show’s first tune, “Oh, What Beautiful Mornin’,” the sunny mood of the production brightens the stage. So animated and immersed in his role, Jackson’s solos and duets (“The Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” with Josefia Gabrielle as Laurie) are compelling and flawless, clearly demonstrating he would become a major musical star. Curly was his groundbreaking role, decades ago, that portended his later performances in filmed musicals such as “Les Miserables” and “The Greatest Showman.”
Maureen Lipman as Aunt Eller, with Jackman in “Oklahoma.”
With nostalgia as part of a selling point now, “Oklahoma” is like meeting a friend you wish you met years ago. An obscure discovery now, it’s fitting and proper to watch it on a big screen, with lounge seats, of course. This would have been a buried treasure were it not brought to our attention now.
It’s delightful to discover the supporting cast, too, performers genuinely ingrained in the roles they play. Maureen Lipman is precious as the salty but in-command Aunt Eller, leading the singing and dancing ensemble’s animated and storied “The Farmer and the Cowman,” a battle cry with a theme of territoriality that evolves in a call for unity, solidarity and togetherness. She’s also kind of a helicopter aunt to Curly and Laurie, protective and there when they need her. Hers is the voice of wisdom here, never tolerating foolishness.
Vicki Simon as Ado Annie is irresistibly romantic but adorably confused, and likely an audience favorite with her giddy and fluctuating heart, which puts Jimmy Johnston as her beau, Will Parker, reeling. Then there’s Shuler Hensley as Jud Fry, the misinterpreted wave of darkness who lives in a smokehouse, and Peter Polycarpou as the comedic traveling Persian salesman Ali Hakim, who also is a likeable conman infatuated with Ado Annie.
Josephia Gabrielle, as Laurie, with Jackman in “Oklahoma.”
Remember, this is a staged production, with action within the proscenium of the theater, yet director Trevor Nunn (“Cats”) gives the production grandness with minimal sets, but supported by a huge and versatile revolving turntable stage.
The singing and dancing ensemble in “Oklahoma’: A dream cast.
R&H shows always include a mid-way dream sequence, to sort out conflicting issues and choices, so the Agnes DeMille’s choreography of this phase is stunning with wavering moods. The legendary Susan Stroman (“Crazy for You”) updated the choreography, including cowboy-type leaps and twirls, aptly tuned in to the countrified storyline.
One of the quizzical elements of the movie is the lack of audience response (applause after each tune, as in an actual stage performance), so sometimes the quiet seems eerie. Those in the theater also were calm and quiet, till the film was over, then offering a few hoots and some clapping.
Further, since this production was a stage effort, it’s amazing that you don’t see body mikes on the actors. Also, the movie runs nearly three hours, so a stage-type intermission is part of the experience.
A film with an intermission: When’s the last time you’ve seen this?
I was so enraptured with this film, I ordered a DVD of the show at Amazon.com yesterday.
In retrospect, this is truly a unified theatrical vision, sewn together like a colorful quilt, seamlessly fusing music with dialogue, story with dance.
And in another 20 years, when “Oklahoma” logs its milestone 100th anniversary, perhaps there will then be a star of the future starring in this proven hit to evolve as his generation’s Jackman. …
And that’s Show Biz. …