Great Performances | Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!
Watch Sunday, July 17, 2016 at noon on WMHT-TV
Great news for Hollywood and Broadway fans: Hugh Jackman—who recently starred in the worldwide hit film version of Les Misérables— can be seen again in his breakout musical role as cowpoke Curly in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! as part of the PBS Arts 2013 Fall Festival. Retransferred from the original film print, the special encore telecast is presented for the first time in high definition. Get more information about the program.
Jackman originated the role in Trevor Nunn’s acclaimed Royal National Theatre (RNT) production in 1998. The production was filmed at Shepperton Studios in London just before its move from the RNT to the West End.
“A triumphant, miraculously fresh-feeling production,” wrote The New York Times of Nunn’s re-think of the groundbreaking 1943 work, now celebrating its 70th anniversary. Nunn, who actually directed the original stage production of Les Misérables (as well as Great Performances’ 1993 presentation of Porgy and Bess), won unanimous praise for exploring the darkness and depth beneath the show’s sunny surface. While never denying the charm of the show’s beloved musical numbers, Nunn’s interpretation fully reveals the underlying emotional complexity of the Rodgers & Hammerstein original.
This is particularly true of grizzled outsider Jud Fry, the hired man obsessed with heroine Laurey. As portrayed by Shuler Hensley (appearing on Broadway this season in No Man’s Land and Waiting for Godot), Jud becomes strangely sympathetic, albeit intimidating and dangerous. Hensley was honored with both an Olivier and Tony Award for his performance.
Matching Nunn’s character insight with inventive dance inspiration of her own is five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman (The Producers, Crazy for You and the current Broadway show Big Fish), who reconceived the original Agnes de Mille choreography for such classics as “Kansas City,” “The Farmer and the Cowman,” and, most astonishingly, Laurey’s pivotal “Dream Ballet.” Blessed with leads who can both sing and dance, Stroman eschews de Mille’s famous substitution of the actors for dancers in the ballet and gives the work her own distinctive spin, from jaunty innocence to violence and death.
Josefina Gabrielle co-stars as the headstrong Laurey. She trained at the Arts Educational School in London, where she was invited to join the National Ballet of Portugal and became a soloist with the company.
Also featured in the cast are Maureen Lipman (The Pianist) as Aunt Eller, Vicki Simon as Ado Annie, Jimmy Johnston as Will Parker, and Peter Polycarpou as Ali Hakim.
The expansive, dream-like sets are by Anthony Ward, who also designed the costumes. David Hersey is lighting designer, with John Owen Edwards as musical director. The original orchestrations are by Robert Russell Bennett, with additional orchestrations by William David Brohn and new dance music arranged by David Krane.
Among the work’s famous songs are “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “Out of My Dreams,” “I Cain’t Say No,” “Oklahoma!,” and “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” perhaps Rodgers & Hammerstein's most beloved creation.
It is Jackman’s rendition of the last that sets the tone for the telecast, promising not just a “beautiful morning,” but a “beautiful day” as well. “His legs are as high as an elephant’s eye,” wrote The London Daily Telegraph, “he is 6 feet, 3 inches of perfect tanned cowboy. When he walks on to the stage a soft female collective sigh runs nightly round the packed auditorium.”
When Oklahoma! first aired on Great Performances in 2003, Jackman was appearing on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre in “The Boy from Oz”" playing fellow Aussie, the late Peter Allen.
The work, based on Lynn Riggs’ play Green Grow the Lilacs, marked the first collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II and launched what became arguably the most successful partnership in American musical theater. Oklahoma! was soon followed by Carousel (1945), Allegro (1947), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), Me and Juliet (1953), Pipe Dream (1955), Flower Drum Song (1958) and The Sound of Music (1959). For the movies they wrote State Fair (1945) and for television (for Julie Andrews) they created Cinderella (1957), now enjoying a Broadway stage production.