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Image Entertainment presents
Oklahoma! (1999)

"You're doing fine Oklahoma,
Oklahoma, O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A,

- the title song of Oklahoma!, sung by the entire cast

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: November 19, 2003

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Maureen Lipman, Josefina Gabrielle, Shuler Hensley, Vicki Simon, Jimmy Johnston, Peter Polycarpou
Director: Trevor Nunn, Chris Hunt

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild stage violence)
Run Time: 02h:59m:56s
Release Date: November 18, 2003
UPC: 014381105728
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Hugh Jackman is currently the toast of Broadway. The handsome Australian actor has seduced New York's crusty theater critics, garnering unanimous praise for his portrayal of flamboyant entertainer Peter Allen in the splashy, multi-million-dollar musical, The Boy from Oz. Yet many of Jackman's fans, who know him best as Wolverine, that hairy hunk with the glowering eyes and retractable claws from the X-Men movies, might be surprised by his success in the musical milieu. But to anyone lucky enough to have seen the 1998 London revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! or listen to its CD cast recording, such versatility is old news. And now, thanks to Image Entertainment's DVD release of this highly lauded performance, those of us who reside far away from the bright lights of Broadway can finally discover what all the fuss is about.

From the moment Jackman (as the brash, charming Curly McLain) walks on stage and begins to belt out "Oh! What a Beautiful Mornin'," it's irrefutably clear we're in the presence of a major musical star. The man can sing! But it's not just his vocal power that grabs our attention. Jackman's energy, enthusiasm, sparkling eyes and dazzling smile all contribute to a truly electric stage presence. With a natural, confident air, he takes full command of every scene in which he appears, and when he's not on stage, we impatiently await his return. At one point during Oklahoma!'s first act, he's gone for a full 25 minutes, and while the rest of the cast carries on admirably without him, his absence ever so slightly slows the show.

It's been 60 years since Oklahoma! first swept onto Broadway, and the blasé familiarity the title now inspires makes us forget what a big deal this musical once was. Almost overnight, Oklahoma! revolutionized the genre, ushering in an era of maturity and substance that continues to this day. In prior musicals, songs often functioned as stand-alone interludes and disrupted the story's flow. But Rodgers and Hammerstein changed all that, weaving songs into the fabric of the plot, so they advanced the action and delineated character. The musical was also the first to feature a lengthy ballet with psychological overtones, address serious issues, fully devlop a broad canvas of characters, and musicalize highly dramatic moments. Someone even dies! Before Oklahoma!, such events were pure anathema in the musical genre, more akin to Shakespeare and Eugene O'Neill than the tunesmiths of The Great White Way.

The musical's premise seems deceptively shallow, as it revolves around a rural town dance and whether Curly and Laurey (Josefina Gabrielle) will drop their defenses and admit their amorous feelings, or allow Jud (Shuler Hensley), a brooding, tortured farmhand, to come between them. Another triangular romance—between flirtatious Ado Annie (Vicki Simon), down-home cowman Will Parker (Jimmy Johnston) and traveling peddler Ali Hakim (Peter Polycarpou)—adds diversion, but can't mask the substance simmering beneath the story's surface. Set in 1907, against the backdrop of impending statehood, Oklahoma! depicts in microcosm the palpable tension between farmers and ranchers, and how that friction influences the characters' choices and desires. Adult themes of sex, isolation, and twisted longing also swirl about the show, adding the rare element of suspense to a Broadway musical.

This production, impeccably directed by Trevor Nunn (Les Misérables, Sunset Boulevard), preserves the original's power and depth, while revitalizing its structure. Agnes de Mille's legendary choreography has been scrapped in favor of all-new dances devised by Susan Stroman (who went on to direct and choreograph the Broadway blockbuster The Producers). To accommodate her vision, some of Rodgers' orchestrations and dance arrangements were modified, but the electrifying results justify the changes. Stroman's choreography is stylish and appropriately exuberant, especially the dramatic and passionate Act I finale ballet. Nunn also succeeds in delving deeper into Jud's troubled character, helping us to better understand his motivations and menacing actions.

Sometimes filmed theatrical performances possess a static quality and lack visual panache, due to limited camera angles and production constraints. But Nunn avoids such problems by merely creating the illusion of a live performance. Don't be fooled; this production of Oklahoma! was performed and shot on a sterile soundstage (made to look like a theatrical stage), and at times more closely resembles a movie than a play. Yet, in this case, that's a good thing. Oklahoma! becomes a more intimate experience as a result; we understand the characters better, glean more nuances, and enjoy more artistic shot compositions, especially during the musical numbers. The inserted audience reaction shots and applause often seem jarring and inconsistent (some songs receive ovations, others do not), but what we gain in perspective outweighs any awkwardness.

In addition to Jackman's vigorous, captivating portrayal, Shuler Hensley embodies the character of Jud, filling him with angst, despair and a creepy foreboding that elevate his status beyond that of token villain. During his intense performance of "Lonely Room," Hensley weaves a riveting spell, masterfully turning our enmity into empathy with his wounded eyes and resonant vocal tones. Unfortunately, none of the female leads can reach the same lofty heights. Although Josefina Gabrielle possesses a sweet singing voice, spunk and charm, her Laurey lacks the magnetism to believably attract (and even obsess) both Curly and Jud. (One can't help but compare her to Shirley Jones in the 1955 movie version, and she comes up short.) Maureen Lipman provides a strong, steadying influence as Aunt Eller and Vicki Simon is appropriately vivacious and flighty as Ado Annie, but neither can compete with Jackman and Hensley.

As the disc's "making-of" documentary points out, it's rare for a musical to spawn four legendary songs, but practically unprecedented for all four to be sung by one character. Jackman takes "Oh! What A Beautiful Mornin'," "Surry With the Fringe on Top," "People Will Say We're in Love" and the rousing title tune, and immediately make them his own. He's the heart and soul of this brilliantly conceived and executed revival, which reinvents and reinvigorates Oklahoma!. Jackman is by no means a movie star slumming in musical theater until the next blockbuster comes along. He's the real deal.

Which, of course, begs the question: Is it too late to make X-Men 3 a musical? Let's hope not.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: For an indoor stage performance, Oklahoma! flaunts an enviable array of rich, well-saturated hues, often reminiscent of golden era Technicolor musicals. The colorful backdrops and lighting effects emit a warm glow that lends the show a cozy, intimate feel, thus producing a far different experience from viewing Oklahoma! theatrically. As a result, overall image quality leans toward the soft side, although close-ups possess excellent clarity. Almost all of the costumes feature some sort of checkerboard pattern or busy print, which produces occasional shimmering, but never enough to be bothersome. The source material remains spotless throughout, which helps make this transfer a true delight.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 track is clear as a bell and beautifully transmits both dialogue and music. Singing voices sound pure and full, and the orchestra possesses solid presence and depth. Distortion is absent, even during the most bombastic production numbers, and the lovely sounds of chirping birds subtly infuse the rear channels. Musicals crave top-notch fidelity and this mix hits a home run.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Music/Song Access with 18 cues and remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: generic plastic two-disc keepc
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:30m:35s

Extras Review: Image Entertainment has wisely given Oklahoma! the two-disc treatment, placing the show itself on Disc 1 and supplements on Disc 2. Although the second disc's sole feature is a 25-minute "making-of" documentary, viewers should appreciate the decision not to risk compromising the musical's audio and video quality by cramming all the material on a single disc. Bravo, Image!

The Making of Oklahoma! possesses a more substantive feel than most behind-the-scenes documentaries—whether or not that's due to the predominance of British accents and the serious, BBC-style narration is open for debate, but the piece presents a wealth of interesting information and perspective. Unfortunately, it's often difficult to determine whose perspective we're getting, because none of the speakers are identified on-screen. It's easy, of course, to pinpoint cast members, and Tim Pigott-Smith's narration makes it clear when director Trevor Nunn and choreographer Susan Stroman are about to speak, yet several other participants remain mysteriously anonymous. A lovely older woman makes several cogent points, but it's not until she says the word "daddy" several times that we guess she's Richard Rodgers' daughter. Knowing her first name, however, would make paraphrasing her comments in this review a lot easier.

Despite this frustrating omission, the documentary still wins high marks. We learn some of the musical's history (and the real-life history that inspired it), including how Rodgers' partner, lyricist Lorenz Hart, passed on the project, paving the way for the first collaboration between Rodgers and Hammerstein. We also find out why the show's title was changed during out-of-town previews, and the origin of its unique exclamation point. In addition, Stroman notes that this production of Oklahoma! marks the first time dance doubles were not used for Laurey and Curly in the ballet.

Nunn explains the advantages of filming the show rather than taping a live performance, and a representative from the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization discusses the rare freedoms Nunn was granted as he began conceptualizing this revival. The changes certainly pleased Rodgers' daughter, who definitively states, "This is a better production than the original. And I'm one of the few people alive and walking around who saw the original." High praise indeed.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Oh, what a beautiful show! If you think Oklahoma! is passé, then you haven't seen Trevor Nunn's muscular, thrilling revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. With his eye-opening performance as Curly, Hugh Jackman proves he's a jack-of-all-trades and a formidable musical presence. Coupled with top-notch audio and video, this presentation of Oklahoma! is much more than O.K.; it's spectacular. Highly recommended.


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