REVIEW: Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at the Wyndham’s Theatre







Every musical theatre fan is going to want to slap me silly when I say that I’ve never actually seen Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! I didn’t grow up watching those classic musicals but now as an adult, I make an effort to go and see them to make up for lost time. What I didn’t expect, was for this production to have such an emotional effect on me.   

Oklahoma! is a Rogers and Hammerstein staple, first performed in 1943 on Broadway this piece has certainly stood the test of time as it remains to be one of the most famous musical classics. This production, which is currently playing at the Wyndham’s Theatre, has transferred from a fantastic run at the Young Vic and prior to this, a stellar run on Broadway. 

I was completely blown away by this production, the simplicity of every aspect was stunning. The words do all of the work in this production and what comes of that is pure truth from the actors. Not a single moment felt forced, provoked or staged, every performer was in the moment and allowed the text to do all the work for them. What that brought out of the text was a brilliant comedy but also extreme tragedy. 

This production turns what we’ve known about it on its head (I was thoroughly informed by my date that evening!) Jud Fry, performed by Patrick Vaill, is usually played as this big bad guy and the villain of the piece. In this, he is almost like a Shakespearian protagonist. The character’s mental health was very fragile in the show and nowadays, if this was set in a modern-day city, the character would have so many options to get help. In an almost timeless country village, he has no resources. Vaill, who has transferred from the US production, plays the role with a beautiful and uncomplicated simplicity. He is emotionally abused by the people around him and we see the tragic effects of that. In the moment of his *spoiler alert* death, I froze and immediately welled up. 

This really struck a chord with me, I don’t think there are many people around who don’t know someone who has been affected directly by mental health. Watching a character who is visibly in need of help and desperate was truly heartbreaking as an outsider. This gives the whole piece a new meaning and Patrick Vaill is a masterful performer. 

The wonderful Arthur Darvill plays the leading role of Curly, with the iconic opening song his alternative vocals give a new sound to the score and it’s completely unique. Whilst Jud Fry is the protagonist in this version, Curly is almost, probably, most definitely the villain. A vision of classic toxic masculinity, this character is unlikable and by the end we want him locked up for life. It takes a very skilled actor to make us hate him, Darvill is undoubtedly the man for the job. An outstanding performance. 

Georgina Onuorah takes over the role of Ado Annie from Marisha Wallice who played the character at the Young Vic. Wallice has just been nominated for an Olivier for the role and I’m wondering if Onuorah can be nominated next year? If it’s allowed, it most definitely should happen. She is the shining example of an impeccable comedy actor, she allows the words to do the work for her and with her skill and talent she produces one of the funniest performances I’ve seen in a very long time. Huge vocals and a gorgeous actor, I’m very much looking forward to seeing where she goes in the future. 

Her partner in crime, Will Parker, played by James Patrick Davis, matched the energy of Onuorah. Another very natural performance but executed the comedy element perfectly. 

Two other final cast mentions must go to Liza Sadovy and Helen K Wint. Sadovy blew me away and was the stand-out performance in Cabaret so seeing her in this was truly wonderful, a great role for her. She had strength and commanded the action but also had a soft side, a joy to watch. Wint is an understudy in the show, covering three roles, and was on for Gertie the night I visited. Had I not seen the sign at the bar, I would never have thought she was an understudy. She slotted in perfectly and gave a really wonderful performance, this early in the run it just proves how valuable and talented our understudies are in theatre. 

The creatives on this show have really created something extremely special, Drew Levy’s Sound design was remarkable and so detailed. It contributed to the overall production immensely and truly made the show. Along with Scott Zielinski’s lighting design, it proved that simplicity sometimes really is the most effective thing. 

Under the direction of Daniel Fish, this production of Oklahoma is remarkable. The theatrical event of the year, this piece is the must-see show of 2023. This is the most special and thought-provoking show I’ve seen in a very long time, I left the theatre with a lump in my throat and am already planning my return. 

Review by Mark Swale 

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Seat: Royal Circle, B24 | Price of the Ticket: £150.00

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