Tag Archives: South Pacific

At 70, you’re still doin’ fine, ‘Oklahoma!’

'Great Performances' presents an encore telecast of its 2003 presentation of 'Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!,' with Hugh Jackman as Curly.

Hugh Jackman (Curly), Maureen Lipman (Aunt Eller) and Josefina Gabrielle (Laurey) star in a ‘Great Performances’ encore telecast of ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!’

As Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! marks the 70th anniversary this year of its Broadway premiere, tonight Great Performances offers a very welcome encore presentation (in high definition for the first time) of Trevor Nunn’s critically acclaimed staging of the show, which first aired on PBS in 2003.
Hugh Jackman heads the mostly British cast as Curly, the role that propelled him to international stardom after Nunn’s production opened at London’s Royal National Theatre in 1998. Still largely unknown at the time outside his native Australia, Jackman quickly had female theatergoers swooning, with The London Daily Telegraph describing the actor as “6 feet, 3 inches of perfect tanned cowboy.”
Yet this well-received production, which transferred to Broadway in 2002, was no mere star vehicle. Oklahoma! was widely regarded as little more than a quaint and charming period piece when Nunn began pondering his revival. After all, the plot mostly revolves around the burning question of which boy a pretty young girl is going to let take her to a picnic.
Nunn, however, recognized conflict and complexity in the show’s homespun characters, especially when it came to Jud Fry, the lonely and inarticulate hired hand vying with Curly for the attentions of Laurey (Josefina Gabrielle), the show’s heroine. Over the years since Oklahoma! premiered, Jud had become a stock villain, someone who existed only to pose a threat to Curly and Laurey’s happiness. In Nunn’s revival, the character gained a new, almost tragic stature through the casting of American actor Shuler Hensley, whose shattering performance earned him an Olivier Award in London and a Tony Award in New York. It helped that Nunn also restored Jud’s often-cut solo, “Lonely Room,” near the end of Act One, a number that chillingly underscored Jud’s obsession with Laurey.
Probably the most controversial change that Nunn made, however, was his decision to hire five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman to reconceive Agnes DeMille’s legendary choreography, which previously had been considered a production element as integral to Oklahoma! as the music of Richard Rodgers and the book and lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II. Stroman’s revisions included rethinking one of DeMille’s career masterpieces, the dream ballet for Laurey that climaxes Act One, in which DeMille had dancers doubling for the singers playing Laurey and Curly. In Jackman and Gabrielle, however, Stroman was blessed to have two singers who were accomplished dancers, a strength she exploited in a dance number that combines romantic lyricism and chilling violence.
As I recently rewatched this Oklahoma!, I was surprised to note that it clocks in at close to three hours, although it certainly doesn’t feel long. Anthony Ward, who also designed the costumes, came up with a spare but evocative set that emphasizes seemingly vast stretches of space, suggesting both a dreamscape and the sweeping plains of the Oklahoma territory at the start of the 20th century. It certainly doesn’t hurt, either, that the score contains one Broadway standard after another, from Curly’s “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” and “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” to the love duet “People Will Say We’re in Love” and Ado Annie’s comic complaint “I Cain’t Say No.”
Oklahoma! may have been the first true masterwork from the Broadway dream team that also would give us South Pacific, Carousel, The King and I and The Sound of Music, but as Nunn and company remind us, this 1943 musical still has a bracing freshness and power to surprise us after all these years.
Josefina Gabrielle and Hugh Jackman are pioneer lovers Laurey and Curly in 'Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!' on PBS.

Laurey (Josefina Gabrielle) and Curly (Hugh Jackman) sing ‘People Will Say We’re in Love’ from ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!,’ airing tonight on ‘Great Performances.’

Something for all in ‘Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration’

Julie Andrews

Julia Andrews welcomes a Lincoln Center audience to ‘Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration’ Friday on PBS.

A PBS institution enters middle age tonight with an all-star birthday gala as Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration premieres on many of the network’s affiliates (be sure to check your local listings).
The 90-minute clips-heavy special spotlights the breathtaking diversity that this series, TV’s longest-running performing arts showcase, has brought to viewers across the decades, although the overall sensibility of the production, taped at Lincoln Center nearly a year ago, skirts the high-brow in favor of keeping things relaxed and accessible to a wide audience. Indeed, opera – a mainstay of Great Performances over the years – is represented within the lineup only with a brief aria from Bizet’s Carmen, with sexy blonde Latvian soprano Elina Garanca reprising a highlight from her Metropolitan Opera success in the title role.
Julie Andrews, who has become something of a PBS poster girl during the Indian summer of her career, opens the program with a segment devoted to memorable Great Performances offerings drawn from musical theater, encompassing such shows as Oklahoma!, Cats and South Pacific, among many others. “Its simple premise was to provide a home for the world’s greatest artists,” Andrews says of how Great Performances was born. “The series would be a showcase for the best in music, drama and dance. And as you will see tonight, four decades later, this vision not only succeeded, but it has grown to give viewers across the country a front row seat to the performing arts.”
PBS mainstay Audra McDonald kicks off the evening’s musical lineup with a number from the Broadway musical She Loves Me, followed by a Jason Robert Brown song called “Stars and the Moon” that is a high point of the entire telecast. (Brown, who won a Tony Award a few years ago for his shortlived Broadway musical Parade, may not be familiar to you, but I suspect he’s about to break out in a big way: His musical adaptation of the movie comedy Honeymoon in Vegas just opened to rave reviews at New Jersey’s Papermill Playhouse, while his highly anticipated musical setting of The Bridges of Madison County opens on Broadway in early 2014).
Introducing a segment celebrating the series’ legacy of great drama programs, Tony and Emmy winner David Hyde Pierce credits Great Performances with inspiring him to become an actor by exposing him during his formative years to provocative works and performances from some of the world’s best actors, while New York City Ballet chief Peter Martins reflects on how Great Performances has brought striking and original new works by George Balanchine, Jerome Roberts, Alvin Ailey, Paul Taylor and Martha Graham to a vast American audience. As an example, Martins presents members of his current troupe in a very funny dance number set to Ray Charles singing “It Should’ve Been Me.”
Rounding out the program are engaging performances by violinist Itzhak Perlman and vocalists ranging from Josh Groban and Don Henley to Patti Austin and Take 6. PBS favorite Michael Buble closes out by thanking Great Performances for giving him a showcase nine years ago when he was just starting out, allowing him to become the “humble global superstar” we see in him today. That’s just before he suggests that PBS really stands for “a Pretty Bad-ass Station” and coaxes several members of audience to join him as an onstage “mosh pit” for his final number, “I’ve Got the World on a String.”
Like I said, nothing too stuffy or high-brow here, just some exceptional performers celebrating a TV series that, in most cases, has been very good to them … and, of course, to us.
David Hyde Pierce

David Hyde Pierce in ‘Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration’ on PBS.