29 April 2022
OKLAHOMA! (Young Vic Theatre) Review
The Young Vic website did promise that this musical had been “reimagined for the 21st century”, and that was certainly no lie.
The first act is pretty much what you’d expect from the show, albeit played with a lot of fun and cheekiness. Curly the cowboy stops by the farm to see Laurey, who he is sweet on, but runs into Aunt Eller first. He wants to take Laurey to a dance, but she already said she’d go with Jud the farmhand.
Eller is played by Liza Sadovy (I didn’t even know she was in it, having left Cabaret, so that was a wonderful surprise), whose voice is an absolute delight. Anoushka Lucas as Laurey holds her own with a good voice that carries nicely throughout the auditorium. Arthur Darvill is an odd choice for Curly I thought: he can act, but his singing is nowhere nearly as strong as the two female leads, and the disparity shows more than it should when they sing a number together.
Laurey’s friend Ado Annie (played with spunk and incredible vocals by Marisha Wallace) has been updated with a terrific comedic spark, as has her suitor Will. The tickets page says that “audience members in row A […] will be part of the action”, which they weren’t really (sorry to be the bearer of bad news to those who bought these), except for 2 punters. One of them, an elderly gentleman in his 60s, ended up the object of Annie’s affection, which had the whole audience roaring with laughter. Even with brewing conflicts, the whole first half was fairly light and cheery and upbeat.
And then there was the second half that included a “dream sequence”. Laurey falls asleep at the end of the first act, so we join her in progress as it were after the intermission. Say what you will about edgy stagings, alternative interpretations, modern dance, etc., but it was a complete miss both for me and my companion. Plenty of people around us had that “huh” look about them, so it wasn’t just us. The sequence was too long, too muddled, and, frankly, completely unnecessary (even though one could, in a pinch, find some clever allegory in it). It didn’t add anything to the show except for 10 minutes of running time. Mind you, Marie-Astrid Mence is clearly a good dancer, it’s just that dance wasn’t worth having.
To turn a bit of eye-rolling into a complete disappointment over directorial originality, there was also a live video feed on stage. When almost every show is doing it, it stops being an interesting tool. It was completely unnecessary here, and I think the show would’ve done just fine without it. If anything, it took away from the age of cowboys and all that. There were also scenes in the dark, which would’ve been cool, but the sound was very muddled (we thought the actors may’ve had their handheld mics too close to their mouths).
For all the updating and modernising, the auction scene where men bid on lunch baskets made by the women (with the money going to a local school and the prize being lunch with the woman who made each basket) felt a bit slimy, like they were bidding on women themselves. Obviously there is a bit of that in the original, but this was brought out and exaggerated here. The end of the show (with a big fight and things that follow) seemed a bit flat and almost anticlimactic. Instead of it being a big deal, everyone just kind of mulled around a bit and moved on.
The on-stage musicians were outstanding. We sat facing the guy who conducted and played the accordion, and that was a great show all on its own. The base player and the banjo player were also noteworthy.
Overall, it’s a nice evening out if you like Rodgers & Hammerstein, but it felt like the show was neither the classic nor a coherent modernisation with a unique point of view. It could also do with a bit of snipping and tightning, as is does drag on a bit in a few places.
Cheapskate enjoyment value: £2.