On the Occasion of the Landmark Musical’s 70th Anniversary, Hugh Jackman Returns in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘Oklahoma!’ on “Great Performances” Friday, November 15, 2013 at 9 p.m. as Part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival
Directed by Sir Trevor Nunn, and choreographed by Susan Stroman, the acclaimed Royal National Theatre production reveals the work’s emotional complexity with a fresh approach
Great news for Hollywood and Broadway fans: Hugh Jackman–who recently starred in the worldwide hit film version of “Les Miserables”– can be seen again in his breakout musical role as cowpoke Curly in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, Friday, November 15 at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN’s Great Performances as part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival (check local listings). Retransferred from the original film print, the special encore telecast is presented for the first time in high definition.
Jackman originated the role in Trevor Nunn’s acclaimed Royal National Theatre (RNT) production in 1998. The production was filmed at Shepperton Studios in London just before its move from the RNT to the West End.
“A triumphant, miraculously fresh-feeling production,” wrote The New York Times of Nunn’s re-think of the groundbreaking 1943 work, now celebrating its 70th anniversary. Nunn, who actually directed the original stage production of “Les Misérables” (as well as Great Performances‘ 1993 presentation of “Porgy and Bess”), won unanimous praise for exploring the darkness and depth beneath the show’s sunny surface. While never denying the charm of the show’s beloved musical numbers, Nunn’s interpretation fully reveals the underlying emotional complexity of the Rodgers & Hammerstein original.
This is particularly true of grizzled outsider Jud Fry, the hired man obsessed with heroine Laurey. As portrayed by Shuler Hensley (appearing on Broadway this season in “No Man’s Land” and “Waiting for Godot”), Jud becomes strangely sympathetic, albeit intimidating and dangerous. Hensley was honored with both an Olivier and Tony Award for his performance.
Matching Nunn’s character insight with inventive dance inspiration of her own is five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman (“The Producers,” “Crazy for You” and the current Broadway show, “Big Fish”), who reconceived the original Agnes de Mille choreography for such classics as “Kansas City,” “The Farmer and the Cowman,” and, most astonishingly, Laurey’s pivotal “Dream Ballet.” Blessed with leads who can both sing and dance, Stroman eschews de Mille’s famous substitution of the actors for dancers in the ballet and gives the work her own distinctive spin, from jaunty innocence to violence and death.
Josefina Gabrielle co-stars as the headstrong Laurey. She trained at the Arts Educational School in London, where she was invited to join the National Ballet of Portugal and became a soloist with the company.
Also featured in the cast are Maureen Lipman (“The Pianist”) as Aunt Eller, Vicki Simon as Ado Annie, Jimmy Johnston as Will Parker, and Peter Polycarpou as Ali Hakim.
The expansive, dream-like sets are by Anthony Ward, who also designed the costumes. David Hersey is lighting designer, with John Owen Edwards as musical director. The original orchestrations are by Robert Russell Bennett, with additional orchestrations by William David Brohn and new dance music arranged by David Krane.
Among the work’s famous songs are “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “Out of My Dreams,” “I Cain’t Say No,” “Oklahoma!,” and “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” perhaps Rodgers & Hammerstein’s most beloved creation.
It is Jackman’s rendition of the last that sets the tone for the telecast, promising not just a “beautiful morning,” but a “beautiful day” as well. “His legs are as high as an elephant’s eye,” wrote The London Daily Telegraph, “he is 6 feet, 3 inches of perfect tanned cowboy. When he walks on to the stage a soft female collective sigh runs nightly round the packed auditorium.”
When “Oklahoma!” first aired on Great Performances in 2003, Jackman was appearing on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre in “The Boy from Oz,” playing fellow Aussie, the late Peter Allen.
The work, based on Lynn Riggs’ play “Green Grow the Lilacs,” marked the first collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II and launched what became arguably the most successful partnership in American musical theater. “Oklahoma!” was soon followed by “Carousel” (1945), “Allegro” (1947), “South Pacific” (1949), “The King and I” (1951), “Me and Juliet” (1953), “Pipe Dream” (1955), “Flower Drum Song” (1958) and “The Sound of Music” (1959). For the movies they wrote “State Fair” (1945) and for television (for Julie Andrews) they created “Cinderella” (1957), now enjoying a Broadway stage production.
The Blu-ray edition of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is available from Image Entertainment.
Great Performances is a production of THIRTEEN for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers. Throughout its 40 year history on public television, Great Performances has provided viewers across the country with an unparalleled showcase of the best in all genres of the performing arts, serving as America’s most prestigious and enduring broadcaster of cultural programming. Over the course of its four decades, the series has been the home to the greatest artists in the areas of drama, dance, musical theater, classical and popular music, providing many with their very first television exposure.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘Oklahoma! is a production of Oklahoma! Screen Productions Limited, in association with The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization. It is directed for television by Trevor Nunn and Chris Hunt, with Hunt and Richard Price as producers. Paul Wheeler is director of photography
For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer, and David Horn is executive producer.
Major funding for the Great Performances telecast is provided by the Irene Diamond Fund, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, The Agnes Varis Trust, Rosalind P. Walter, The Starr Foundation, the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, public television viewers and PBS.
Photos and other material can be accessed at the THIRTEEN Online Pressroom: www.thirteen.org/pressroom/gperf.
In 2013, WNET is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of THIRTEEN, New York’s flagship public media provider. As the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to over 5 million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, Need to Know, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the Math, Oh Noah! andCyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJ Today and MetroFocus, the multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. WNET is also a leader in connecting with viewers on emerging platforms, including the THIRTEEN Explore iPad App where users can stream PBS content for free.
About the PBS Arts Fall Festival
As part of its commitment to increase every American’s access to — and participation in — the arts, PBS kicks off the multiplatform PBS Arts Fall Festival on Friday, October 18, 2013, hosted by award-winning television, film and stage star Anna Deavere Smith. Anchored by broadcasts every Friday night and a range of related online content, the Fall Festival features artists and performances from across the country, comprised of full-length performances, behind-the-scenes interviews, and artist and performer profiles.