Oklahoma! Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Music by Richard Rodgers. A transfer of the 1998 Royal National Theatre production directed by Trevor Nunn. Choreography by Susan Stroman. Set and costume design by Anthony Ward. Lighting design by David Hersey. Sound design by Paul Groothuis. Original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett. Starring Patrick Wilson, Josefina Gabrielle, Shuler Hensley, Jessica Boevers, Justin Bohon, Aasif Mandvi, Michael McCarthy, Ronn Carroll, and Andrea Martin.
That legendary bright golden haze has definitely blown off the meadow in the dreary, unappealing Royal National Theatre revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's quintessential musical Oklahoma!, which opened tonight at the Gershwin Theatre.
A major hit in London a few years ago, something seems to have happened in the interval between then and now which renders what was an enticingly dark take on the old warhorse into a dull, monotonous, and predictable production incapable of captivating its audience on even the most basic level. Clocking in at just under three hours, after the first twenty minutes you don't feel like you're watching a musical as much as you feel you're doing time in high school detention for falling asleep in your American history class.
The less said about the performances the better. Suffice to say that the actors are reasonably good but considerably less than exciting across the boards with the single exception of Shuler Hensley, who brings a welcome and overpowering force to the farmhand Jud Fry.
Trevor Nunn's direction is lackluster when it isn't indifferent. Susan Stroman's choreography, with the single exception of the new and barely adequate "Out of My Dreams" ballet, is seemingly a rehash of every move that didn't particularly work in any of her prior shows. Anthony Ward's costumes are colorful in a drab sort of way and his sets manage to fill the massive Gershwin stage, but only by moving around a lot. David Hersey's lighting veers wildly between softly atmospheric and disco without the mirror ball.
I suspect timing has everything to do with the failure of this revival. Perhaps had it transferred from London two or three years ago, in that different world well before September 11th, one would be more willing to entertain its obsession with the dark and base elements inherent in the story. Nowadays, however, it all just seems too precious and self-indulgent. True art and artistry can transcend anything. The fact this Oklahoma! doesn't transcend recent history would suggest this particular take on the show wasn't all that good to begin with.