Tag Archives: Trevor Nunn

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.’

Bard games on PBS

In his Oscar-winning screenplay for Shakespeare in Love, Tom Stoppard floated the whimsical premise that the Bard’s endearing comedy Twelfth Night had been inspired by a (completely fictional) love affair he had while penning Romeo and Juliet. That film is a delightful romantic comedy, but Shakespeare Uncovered, a wonderful new six-film series premiering tonight on most PBS affiliates, manages to be just as entertaining by sticking to the facts as it explores the stories behind some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.
Two back-to-back hourlong episodes air on three successive Fridays, each hosted by a notable artist who has a passionate interest in the subject at hand, starting with Ethan Hawke, a former movie Hamlet who now is keen to get his kilted killer on in the title role of Macbeth. What follows is an engrossing look at one of Shakespeare’s darkest and most enigmatic plays, a work so haunted that superstitious actors refer to it only as “the Scottish play,” believing it bad luck to speak the actual title aloud.
As with the series as a whole, the episode draws on scholarly research from historians who provide background on the real-life Macbeth, who lived roughly 1,000 years ago, as well as commentary from actors who have grappled with the thorny roles of Macbeth and his formidable Lady (keep an eye peeled for a brief excerpt from an early TV production of the play with Sean Connery in the title role!).
The aforementioned Twelfth Night is a prominent part of tonight’s second hour, a fascinating appreciation of Shakespeare’s comedies hosted by Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck), joined by her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, whose own career was launched via an early 1960s televised performance as Rosalind in As You Like It. Both actresses bring a palpable passion and joy to their exploration of how Shakespeare’s comedies contain some of the playwright’s most profound observations on the human condition, especially as it pertains to women. The hour also includes some insightful commentary by Helen Mirren, an acclaimed Rosalind in her own right.
Next Friday’s episodes feature Derek Jacobi exploring the political thriller Richard II, including scenes from an upcoming Great Performances film adaptation of the play starring Patrick Stewart and Ben Whishaw, and Jeremy Irons reflecting on the history plays Henry IV and Henry V, also due for a Great Performances adaptation starring Irons and Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers).
The series concludes on Feb. 8 with David Tennant (Doctor Who) plumbing the depths of Hamlet and director Trevor Nunn considering Shakespeare’s last completed work, The Tempest.
While Shakespeare Uncovered is packed with interesting details, the series strikes a canny balance between scholarship and entertainment, so it should appeal both to Shakespeare enthusiasts and relative newcomers to these plays. Viewers who come to these episodes with at least a rudimentary grasp of what the featured plays are about, however, probably will have a slight advantage.