Oklahoma at Wyndham's Theatre - Powerful voices and subtle sensuality uplift an otherwise bland show
Oklahoma! the musical playing at Wyndham's theatre is a bold and innovative take on the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein show, with minimal sets, modern costumes and a diverse cast. It's not your typical Oklahoma, but it's a refreshing one.
First things first. The bee hated Oklahoma the first time it watched it.
Your faithful bee watched Oklahoma when it first opened at The Young Vic last year, before it transferred to Wyndham’s Theatre earlier this year. And hated it the first time. You might remember this scathing review the bee wrote back then. But I went back a second time because since The Young Vic, I'd had the chance to stream the Broadway version online and acquaint myself with the story properly.
So this time around, even though Oklahoma at Wyndham’s felt like a stripped-down, bare-bones version of the original, and even though it still does not do anything to set context or convey even the time and place of its story, I could fill in the gaps from memory.
Without all the story-related head-scratching that diminished my enjoyment the first time, this time around I could focus on, and thoroughly enjoy, what I think is the only thing about this musical that trumps the original classic - the songs. The leads sang them with an amazing new edge and intensity. What powerful voices!
Even so, this stripped-down version of Oklahoma is not for the uninitiated
Even so, the minimal design, dress and decor, and the rather large table that the characters sat around (I can’t say I liked the scenes where the characters were seated instead of standing and moving about; the energy level felt quite low) would make it hard to get immersed in the story and the characters for anyone without the prior knowledge.
Oklahoma is not much of a "reinvention" so much as a "strip-down to bare minimum", which sometimes intensified and other times dulled the scenes
The way they staged the chat between Jud and Curly at Jud’s outhouse left me in awe; it was really quite moving. I won’t say much else about this scene to avoid spoilers, but it was my favourite scene in the whole show. On the other hand, the dance sequence right after the interval was…unlike anything I've ever seen in a musical. It was a surreal, and supposedly meant to be an artistic expression of the characters' inner conflicts and desires, except that nobody knew the character in question. She was not in the first half of the musical, not even as a supporting character. So who exactly was she and whose inner conflicts and desires was she trying to represent? I thought the dance was so random and out of place that I wondered if I had missed a scene.
My favourite scene from the original Oklahoma is the auction scene, where Curly and Jud compete for Laurie's basket. But the current production’s take on the auction left me disappointed. The actors barely showed any personality. I couldn't understand why Laurie was so stiff and emotionless. She looked like a mannequin on stage, not a person. I understand she is afraid of Jud but that doesn't explain why she needed to stand at the dead centre of the stage, staring blankly at the audience, moving the smallest possible number of muscles on her face to speak out whatever few lines she had in that scene, all the while maintaining the most deadpan expression.
But the cast more than saved the day with their mind-blowing voices. The songs. Just amazing.
Watched April 2023 at Wyndham's Theatre, London.