A West End musical may be the furthest thing imaginable from a Hollywood superhero blockbuster, but the 1998 National Theatre revival of Oklahoma! has a special place in superhero history. It’s the production that gave star Hugh Jackman recognition outside of his native Australia, with the actor auditioning for Wolverine during the show’s run.
The rest, of course, is history, and with Jackman returning to the character for Deadpool 3, it’s an apt time for this original cast recording to hit cinemas. Directed by Sir Trevor Nunn, it’s an all-singing, all-dancing adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein production, perhaps best known from the 1955 film adaptation. Set in the Oklahoma Territory in 1906, just as America was becoming a Union, Jackman plays Curly McClain, a cowboy madly in love with farmgirl Laurey Williams (Josefina Gabrielle), but unable to get past their combative friendship.
In the build up to the anticipated Box Social, the pair try to reconcile their feelings in spite of various obstacles. Opening with the iconic “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’”, at its best the production feels like a warm, nostalgic hug. From the deceptively simple staging to the high energy dance routines, it’s clear to see why this is still considered a big moment in West End history, even 25 years on.
It might be tempting to believe Hugh Jackman has just always been an A-lister, but it’s fascinating to see him at the point just before he hit real fame. He’s every bit a star, creating simmering chemistry with spirited co-star Gabrielle and fitting a lot of nuance into a role that requires him to burst into song every few minutes.
Elsewhere, Vicki Simon brings the laughter as Ado Annie, a young woman torn between two men. Maureen Lipman has a prominent role as the sage Aunt Eller, but her shrill delivery can wear you down. Oklahoma! shows its age in parts, and a ballet dream sequence midway through stops the story dead. But overall it’s a pleasure to revisit an iconic production that will leave musical fans in raptures.