“Oh, what a beautiful mornin’ / Oh, what a beautiful day…”
Yeah, that one’s gonna be stuck in my head all week. You know what’s weird about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic tale of burly cowboys and giddy farm girls? The plot. We’re just going to put it out there: Oklahoma! is all kinds of messed up.
On the one hand, it’s an endearing, rose-tinted love story where you just know that the guy (Curly) is definitely going to get the girl (Laurey). On the other, it’s the terribly depressing tale of Jud Fry: the local loner/weirdo who also longs for Laurey. Jud even sings a song about how people may react at his funeral.
We won’t ruin things, but I’m gonna need to talk to somebody soon about that closing scene. Let’s just say that, despite Curly and Laurey getting everything they ever dreamed of, poor Jud succumbs to one of the most unsettling finales this side of Romeo and Juliet.
Then again, these were different times – the turn of the 20th Century, to be precise – when in Oklahoma Territory everyone’s got themselves in a right-old tizzy about some impending hoedown or other.
People are falling in love left, right and centre. Will is trying to save enough money in order to impress his future fiancee’s father. Curly and Laurey won’t tell each other how they feel because, you know, awkward. Even the blow-in peddler, Ali Hakim, has become entangled in a comical love triangle. Never mind. Aunt Eller (a smashing Belinda Lang) will keep everything in check.
Throw in the obligatory baddie (Jud), a smidgen of gunfire, a bizarre dream ballet sequence and a lot of singin’ and dancin’ and cavortin’ and you have yourself a barnstorming musical adventure.
At just over 160 minutes, Oklahoma! is way too long, but the songbook is rather lovely and director Rachel Kavanaugh has assembled a charming line-up of talented performers. Ashley Day (Curly) has got a fine set of pipes on him – so too does the delightful Charlotte Wakefield (Laurey). Gary Wilmot (Ali) gets all the funniest lines, and Nic Greenshields is positively stunning as Jud. Tone-wise, it’s all over the shop, but hey, Oklahoma! is never boring.