Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

R&H-Oklahoma-CastWhen Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! opened on Broadway in 1943, it revolutionised the American musical, won a Pulitzer Prize, and set the standard for modern musical theatre. Based on Lynn Riggs’ bucolic drama Green Grow the LilacsOklahoma! racked up more than 2000 performances on Broadway, establishing a record that stood until My Fair Lady in 1961.

Composed by the influential team of composer Richard Rodgers and librettist/lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, Oklahoma! features some of the best-known songs in the music theatre canon songs, including Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, The Surrey with the Fringe on Top, Kansas City, I Cain’t Say No, People Will Say We’re in Love, and the ebullient title tune, Oklahoma!.

Considered the “golden age” of musical theatre, Oklahoma! also marked the beginning of one of the most successful partnerships in the history of the Broadway musical, delivering CarouselSouth PacificThe King and I, and The Sound of Music, just to name a few, to the stage. Many of their shows continue to receive frequent revivals around the world.

In Australia, Oklahoma! premiered at Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1949, before touring the country. The 1982 revival, notably saw John Diedrich reprise the role of Curly, following the 1980 West End revival, presented by Cameron Mackintosh. The production featured Agnes de Mille’s choreography, adapted by Gemze de Lappe, who had subsequently choreographed and played Dream Laurey in the 1949 Australian production.

Other notable Australian productions include The Production Company’s 2005 and 2018 seasons at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre, and Richard Carroll’s reimagined production for Perth’s Black Swan Theatre Company in 2020.

R&H-Oklahoma!-Hugh-JackmanNow 80-years since the original premiere, Trafalgar Releasing, in partnership with Concord Originals and The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the National Theatre’s landmark production, by screening it in cinemas across the world.

The musical is preceded with an introduction by Imogen Lloyd Webber, Senior Vice President of Concord, who provides a brief historical context, featuring interviews with choreographer Susan Stroman, associate choreographer Warren Carlyle, and Shuler Hensley, who played Jud Fry.

Directed by Tony winner Trevor Nunn (Cats, Les Misérables) with new choreography by Susan Stroman (New York, New York, The Producers, Crazy for You), Oklahoma! stars Hugh Jackman as Curly, Maureen Lipman as Aunt Eller, Josefina Gabrielle as Laurie, and Tony & Olivier winner Shuler Hensley (The Music Man) as Jud Fry.

Oklahoma! also features Vicki Simon as Ado Annie Carnes, Jimmy Johnston as Will Parker, Peter Polycarpou as Ali Hakim, Rebecca Thornhill as Gertie Cummings, David Shelmerdine as Ike Skidmore, Sidney Livingstone as Andrew Carnes, and Stuart Milligan as Cord Elam.

The creative team includes set and costume designer Anthony Ward, lighting designer David Hersey, music director John Owen Edwards and orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett, with additional orchestrations by William David Brohn and new dance music arranged by David Krane.

Maureen-Lipman-as-Aunt-Eller-and-Hugh-Jackman-as-Curly-in-Rodgers-&-Hammerstein’s-OklahomaUnder Nunn’s steadfast direction, Jackman gives a finely-nuanced and charismatic performance as Curly. Known for his work in Australia (Beauty and The Beast, Sunset Boulevard), his performance as Curly, is considered his international break-through role, going on to have a stellar film and stage career.

Jackman is superbly supported by a stellar cast with outstanding performances from Gabrielle as down-to-earth love interest Laurey Williams, Lipman as the no-nonsense Aunt Eller, and Hensley, the sinister Jud Fry, who has a dark and suspect past. Gabrielle and Hensley would go on to reprise their roles on Broadway with Hensley winning a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

Anthony Ward’s set and costume design’s appropriately set the scene for the turn-of-the-century Oklahoma, providing plenty of room for Stroman’s highly stylised new choreography for dance sequences in Kansas City (featuring some pretty impressive rope work by Johnston as Will Parker) and the full ensemble’s effervescent turn in The Farmer and the Cowman, that opens Act 2.

Stroman also introduced new choreography for the Act 1 Dream Ballet, a departure from the classic de Mille sequence, that features a new musical arrangement, and Gabrielle and Jackman performing the ballet themselves.

While a theatre audience is present at the beginning and end of the screening, this film version has been carefully and judiciously edited to remove scene changes, resulting in the surreal experience of no audience applause between numbers. An appreciative audience at the Como Cinema screening I attended, showed their delight after each musical number, with applause.

Providing a pleasing trip down memory lane, Oklahoma! is a rare treat and a treasure trove for musical theatre fans of all ages.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! screens in selected cinemas on Wednesday 19 July 2023. For more information, visit: for details. Check out the trailer here!

Image: The Cast of Oklahoma! | Hugh Jackman as Curly | Maureen Lipman as Aunt Eller and Hugh Jackman as Curly (supplied)

Review: Rohan Shearn