How to breathe new life into a classic? Don’t change a thing. Just wind it up and watch it go.
“Daniel Fish has delivered an elegant piece of entertainment that is brimming with freshness and contains just the right amount of the bits that already worked”.
That’s probably doing this revival a huge disservice because what differences there are on display here are thrilling and modern in ways many stagings of classic musicals either don’t attempt or don’t get right when they do.
Director Daniel Fish has created a punchy, captivating, sexually charged, and diverse show that elevates the classic songs (and politics) of Roger and Hammerstein’s book to new heights.
For a show that plays out with its ensemble cast largely on stage throughout, Oklahoma! only truly comes alive when they are given the chance to sing. In Arthur Darvill and Anoushka Lucas, the director has gifted musicians who twist every note and emotion in service of character, not theatre, and their performances are all the more captivating and memorable as a result.
However, supporting roles make stronger impressions. There are many to mention, but Georgina Onuorah as Ado Annie practically steals the show with an atom bomb-sized rendition of ‘I Cain’t Say No’. Her immense voice, presence, and handling of wide-ranging humour make her character the most memorable and meaningful.
Patrick Vaill, as Jud Fry (who has had a long association with this production), is intensely magnetic in his moments of observation and action. What could have been purely melancholy and mechanical is something far more complex, particularly in ‘Pore Jud is Daid’. This is one of the moments where the show takes a radical modern departure, combining pitch-black darkness with projected visuals to a haunting and prescient effect.
This was one of the first moments I heard murmurs of dissent from some ‘purists’ seated behind me, and whilst I admit that not every departure in this production works, moments like this were the things I had come to this production hoping to see. If I had wanted to see an exact interpretation of the source material, then I would’ve re-watched the movie.
“Georgina Onuorah as Ado Annie practically steals the show with an atom bomb-sized rendition of ‘I Cain’t Say No’. Her immense voice, presence, and handling of wide-ranging humour make her character the most memorable and meaningful”.
The dream sequence is now a wild dance from performer Marie-Astrid Mence, set to a psychedelic, eclectic rock-style arrangement of ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’. It was another moment where I heard stronger murmurs of dissent; however, I found it to be bold, riveting, and rewarding, even if it did slightly distract from the story.
The bravery required to update and reinterpret material is fully on display here, and it feels like a direct challenge to cliched ways of staging a traditional musical and any accusations that classics like Oklahoma are trivial. Sure, it fizzes with wonderful songs that don’t seem out of place today, but in attempting to dig deeper into the darkness that lies within the source material and reinvent it, Fish has delivered an elegant piece of entertainment that is brimming with freshness and contains just the right amount of the bits that already worked.
Perfectly cast, powerfully performed, fun, and fearsome. You’ll have a good time regardless of your feelings about some of the formats.