Don’t miss Hugh Jackman in ‘Oklahoma!’ on Great Performances

“Oklahoma!” is one of my favorite musicals and to celebrate the 70th anniversary of this beautiful piece of theater, PBS is broadcasting Hugh Jackman’s performance as Curly on “Great Performances” as part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival (check local listings) tonight (Friday) 15 November 2013 at 9 p.m.

Directed by Sir Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Susan Stroman the Royal National Theatre production was filmed at the Shepperton Studios in London just before the production moved from the Royal National Theatre (1998) to the London West End for a six-month run at the Lyceum Theatre.  By the time this performance aired on PBS in 2003, Jackman had already moved on to another play: “The Boy from Oz” on Broadway. Jackman originated the role of Curly for Nunn’s revival.

Jackman was nominated for an Olivier Award. The production won for Outstanding Musical Production, Best Supporting Actor in a Musical (Shuler Hensley), Best Set Designer (Anthony Ward) and Best Theatre Choreographer (Stroman).

The Actors’ Equity would not allow the London cast to perform on Broadway so Americans were not treated to the London cast. At the 2002 Tony Awards, Hensley (who was born in Atlanta, GA) won a Tony as well.

The original Broadway cast of the 1943 Broadway production included Alfred Drake (Curley), Joan Roberts (Laurey), Celeste Holm (Ado Annie), Marc Platt as the Dream Curley and Katharine Sergava as Dream Laurey. Platt was one of the original members of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo although he was born Marcel LePlat in Pasadena, California.

The musical wasn’t produced on the London West End until after World War II in 1947.

“Oklahoma!” was based on the 1931 play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs and was the first musical bringing together the talents of Richard Rodgers (composer) and Oscar Hammerstein II (librettist). It earned the team a special Pulitzer Prize.

The 1955 musical film starred Gordon MacRae as Curly, Shirley Jones as Laurey, Gene Nelson as Will Parker, Gloria Grahame as Ado Annie, Rod Steiger as Jud Fry and Eddie Albert as Ali Hakim.

So you might be used to a blonde and rather prissy Laurey, but in Nunn’s production Josefina Gabrielle’s Laurey is a tomboy, dressed in overalls. That makes her resistance to Jackman’s cigarette-smoking Curley more a matter of refusing to grow up and admit to girlish dreams and desires. Maureen Lipman’s Aunt Eller purchase of a dress for Laurey to wear at the special picnic becomes more poignant and more of a passage into womanhood than a extravagant, thoughtful gift.

Jackman is a lanky, tanned cowboy with a soaring voice and his “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'” sets the tone for the whole production. As a special treat, instead of having a separate Dream Laurey and Dream Curley, Jackman and Gabrielle dance  as their characters in the famous dream sequence.

This broadcast is the first time the retransferred original film print will be broadcast in high definition.

For you that know Jackman as Wolverine, be prepared to be surprised and delighted. Fans of Rodgers and Hammerstein, be sure not to miss this broadcast tonight, Friday, 15 November 2013 at 9 p.m. Check local listings.

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