Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Oklahoma! (1999)

Since watching Oklahoma! (1999) this past weekend, I have recommended it to several people and the response is usually something like, "There's a new Oklahoma!?" Well, 'new' is a relative term, but since the film version most people are familiar with is more than fifty years old, it seems appropriate here.

Yep, FIFTY. The Shirley Jones movie came out in 1955, folks. That's been a few years. More than time for a remake, I think.

I was already aware of this production since I'd seen a little bit of it on PBS's Great Performances a few years back. At the time, I was put off by the fact that it was NOT a movie adaptation, but rather a filmed stage production. The audience is sometimes visible, even purposefully visible. The sets are typical, although nicely conceived, theater sets - painted backdrops, simple props, etc... At the time, this turned me off and I didn't watch much of the show. (I've read recently that this production was actually filmed on a soundstage and the audience shots are intercut to make it seem like a live production. Whichever it is doesn't really matter - it's more like a stage play than it's not.)

So, be prepared for that and then you won't miss, as I did, the wonderful performance given by Hugh Jackman as Curly.


I said Hugh Jackman.

The man can sing. The man can dance. The man can act. And he's easy on the eyes, too. (OK, perhaps that last one is a bit of an understatement.) And he did Oklahoma! on film in 1999. So for 10 years, most of us have been unaware of this musical gem, but no longer.

If you are unfamiliar with Oklahoma!, Curly is the male lead character, a cowboy on the Oklahoma frontier. As Curly, Jackman sings number after number. He dances. He carries the entire production with effortless panache.

Laurie, the female lead, is adequately, but unmemorably, played by Josefina Gabrielle, a relatively unknown actress/dancer who seems rather old to be playing the naive Laurie. Her singing is lovely, but she just doesn't have any chemistry with Jackman or with Hensley. The performance that seemed to match Hugh's performance in depth and skill was given by the actress playing Aunt Eller, Maureen Lipman, an award-winning veteran actress. I also enjoyed performances by Vicki Simon (a wide-eyed Ado Annie) and Shuler Hensley (properly repulsive as Jud Fry, but played with a poignant frightening depth). (Aside - I found it interesting that Hensley played Frankenstein's Monster in Van Helsing - another film in which Jackman had the main role.)

You'll need three hours to enjoy this simply staged, but beautifully rendered production. My children watched with me and it kept their attention most of the time. There were a few scenes that may require some parental guidance - the subject matter may be a little risque. Obsessive love, pinup photos, a girl "who cain't say no", Jud's murder plot.

But the songs! Oh, the songs! I've known most of them by heart since I was a young teen. If you don't know them, you simply must!

So if you only ever watch one version of Oklahoma!, make it this one! I will be adding this DVD to my collection very soon.

Now, if I could just finagle things somehow to make Mr. Jackman consider playing Joseph.....

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