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The British "Oklahoma"


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#1 atm711

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Posted 29 March 2002 - 01:19 PM

Having been around for a number of years, I have seen the original production. In fact, it was the first time I had seen any ballet performed live. As an admirer of Stroman's "Contact" and after reading Clive Barnes' review stating that it was a relief to be rid of deMille's tired dances (or something to that effect) I wondered what could possibly be in store. The whole production has too modern a look. It is not true to the period (Oklahoma became a state in 1907). For most of the first act, the heroine Laurey wears denin overalls--while perfectly 'mod attire' today, I doubt if young farmgirls wore them back then. Stroman's ballet was more of a nightmare than a dream and concentrated much too graphically on Jud's rape of Laurey. In the original production, when those girlie postcards came to life they looked very much like old photos of the period---in Stroman's ballet they looked like escapees from "Cabaret". More dancing has been added---the stomping of feet variety. During the years, "Oklahoma" has survived a movie version and many high school/college performances. I am sure it will survive this one, too.---One last word---the motorized "Surrey with the Fringe on Top"---was over the top.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 29 March 2002 - 01:43 PM

Thanks for that, atm. I don't think one should mess with "Oklahoma" any more than one should mess with "Swan Lake"!

Perhaps it was a success in London because the original wasn't as well known there? There was certainly a lot of pre-opening hype here. We were going to get a great, revived musical. But the post-opening buzz has been a bit more reserved.

Did anyone else see this?

#3 Dale

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Posted 30 March 2002 - 03:47 AM

Frankly, it bothers me when the choreography is changed in a musical -- to me, it's just as much a part of the overall "text" of the show as the music and book. A few years ago, On the Town was re-done by Lubovich. Oklahoma is so associated with the original choreography. I've seen this done with West Side Story as well (is there any other musical that is more connected with its choreographer?!). I believe it is changed just to be "new" not because the old choreography is outdated. :)

#4 BW

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Posted 30 March 2002 - 05:40 AM

Having grown up listening to the music, I had really planned on getting tickets and taking my daughter to see it - she's had the pleasure ;) of listening to me sing parts of it for years.... However, when I heard that Agnes deMille's choreography had been taken out - I was stunned! I also read that the whole Jud thing was given a slightly more obvious twist and felt it wouldn't really be so great for a budding, but naive, adolescent!

Changing these classics just seems sacrilegious....and yet, I enjoyed Sylvie G's Giselle last summer when La Scala paid a visit to Licoln Center.... Perhaps this is why so many ballet lovers were upset by her version? When is it "OK" to change things and when is it not?

#5 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 30 March 2002 - 05:56 AM

Perhaps when the original was not an icon of an era, or a brilliant show or ballet to start with?

I have seen updates of shows that respected the original and just made them a bit better (Cabaret comes to mind!), but have also seen things that seem to me to be sacreligious to change. My favorite show in the world has always been Showboat, perhaps because it was the first show I ever did, but also because of Kern's music. The latest production on B'way, a few years ago, made some changes that really did not work for me. It was overall a pretty good show still, but it was not the show I know, so, like with a beloved and lasting classic ballet, some things should just not be messed with!

#6 PK

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Posted 30 March 2002 - 01:31 PM

Now I'm curious to see just how different the dancing will be.Planning to get tickets.

#7 atm711

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Posted 01 April 2002 - 08:47 AM

BW and PK--I would urge you to see it!. "Oklahoma" is such the perfect musical that it is hard for anyone to completely ruin it. (Sort of like "Les Sylphides"--its beauty survives any performance)

#8 BW

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Posted 01 April 2002 - 01:44 PM

Well, I always have loved the music! In the last few years that song called something like "The Farmer and The Cowman Should be Friends" has made me think of the Democrats and the Republicans...just a bit. ;)

#9 Manhattnik

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Posted 01 April 2002 - 05:33 PM

Well, for whatever my two cents are worth, I saw this production in previews, and again last Friday night. I loved it both times.

While the de Mille choreography was certainly seminal in the history of the musical, I don't think changing the choreography for Oklahoma is as sacriligious as changing the choreography for Swan Lake (not that anyone would dream of doing such a thing, right?). For the most part, a ballet IS the choreography, and, while a musical's choreography is an important element of the whole, it's far from the entire thing.

I liked Nunn's approach to staging Oklahoma very much, and was a bit disappointed by the lukewarm reviews. I liked the gritty and weathered look -- the antique churn Aunt Eller uses to make butter while Curly sings "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," the magnifcently worn chaps and dungarees of the cowboys, or the way Curly rolls and lights a cigarette before launching into "The Surrey with the Fringe On Top." I really loved Stroman's choreography -- if there was a lot of "foot-stamping," well, that's what guys did back then, and her dances were built on the social dances of the time. And I thought the men all danced spectacularly (it's hard not to love Wil's lariat-twirling during "Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City"), and her staging of "The Farmer and the Cowman Should be Friends" was nothing short of brilliant. It's not easy to choreograph mayhem, and this was the grandest and most rollicking stage fight I've ever seen.

Given the way Nunn focussed on the simmering and barely controlled sexuality of the characters, I didn't find the dance-hall girls to be too far over the top. I rather liked the poofy skirts to their corsets, and that despite the black-and-white look to Laury's dream, that each girl had her own brightly, and differently colored undies. This is a darker Oklahoma than I think we're used to, but that doesn't make it a lesser one.

As a former fan of the late, lamented SCTV, I was thrilled to see what a great job Andrea Martin did as Aunt Eller. And the lighting was spectacular thoughout.

I don't think it hurts a great work like Oklahoma to be seriously rethought and re-invented from time to time. Nunn takes Oklahoma very seriously indeed, and I only wish that the various choreographers whom we have to thank for one dreadful recension of Swan Lake after another would approach their task, and their responsibilities, with a fraction of Nunn's respect, intelligence and integrity.

#10 Juliet

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Posted 01 April 2002 - 06:05 PM

I've also seen it--
This is not my favourite musical, by a long shot, but I know it very well. I thought it had new life in it, I thought it far less hackneyed and stereotyped than the film version or other productions which I have attended.

Just to prove a point to myself (I loved it the first time I saw it and wanted to make certain that I was just not being misty-eyed), I took two young professional dancers with me to gauge their reactions. One knew it intimately, the other slightly, and they were both very, very impressed. The dancing was interesting to watch, the performers sustainiing a character-believability throughout, as well.

I have to disagree with atm about the costumes--they were well designed to withstand the rigors of performance, the subtle details (like fastenings) were appropriate, the weathering/aging of the materials done well, and the fabric choices perfectly in time (down to the differentiation in petticoats, bloomers and wooly stockings.) Admittedly, I am looking at this as a professional costumer and admittedly-amateur costume historian, but I have been doing this for many, many years. (I had minor quibbles about some of the hairstyles, but...:rolleyes:)

I think it's an interesting production--the lighting is especially noteworthy--- although the Gershwin is a fairly charmless venue.....

It is a dark musical in some ways (Rogers was not exactly Mr. Sweetness and Light), but I was much more terrified of the Judd in the film version--this actor has a magnificent voice and, let's face it, a great role to flesh out. The dream sequence was all in black and white and the dance hall girls were a lilting note in what was essentially a fairly haunting sequence. By the way, I think it is perfectly appropriate for a younger audience, if this is a concern to some, as nothing is even remotely graphic as compared to the current offerings on MTV or VH1.

For me, this Oklahoma was well sung, well danced, well-produced, well-played and vastly more interesting in some ways for contemporary audiences than the original. Different, but just as worthy.

#11 BW

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Posted 01 April 2002 - 06:51 PM

Many thanks - I'm going to get tickets!:)

#12 Helena

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Posted 02 April 2002 - 12:55 PM

I have been hesitating about asking this, because I think it may be a very British attitude, but I am genuinely curious. In America, do musicals generally come under the heading of "arts"? I would tend to describe them as light entertainment, which isn't quite the same thing.

#13 BW

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Posted 02 April 2002 - 01:18 PM

Helena, I can only speak as one American however, I would have to say that I consider musicals to fall under the category of the performing arts - they include acting, dancing, singing... :(

#14 Ari

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Posted 03 April 2002 - 11:30 AM

In this week's New York magazine, Tobi Tobias compares Susan Stroman's new choreography to Agnes DeMille's, and also reviews Christopher Wheeldon's work in Sweet Smell of Success:

Stroman sticks to De Mille's scenario, relentlessly administering shots of adrenaline at every turn. She's terrific at letting a small movement phrase grow in exuberance until the entire stage is wildly animated. But she does this to excess, adding gymnastic tricks for emphasis, and the cumulative effect is exhausting. Worse, she's unable to find a latter-day equivalent to the homey innocence of De Mille's tone; in her hands, the looming threat (and lure) of the "bad guy" escalates to something as close as you can get onstage to rape. Up to date in Kansas City, indeed!



#15 Alexandra

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Posted 03 April 2002 - 12:38 PM

Helena, I'd agree with you. I think of musicals as entertainment.

"Oklahoma" is of interest to ballet people because of DeMille.


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