This thrilling reimagination of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic by Daniel Fish will both take your breath away and, I would guess, leave some feeling outraged at what seem the liberties taken. Whatever else it is not yet another carbon copy of the original production as so many musical revivals and touring productions are. If directors can do this with an opera then why not with musicals? There always was a dark undertow to the show in the story line involving Jud Fry (Patrick Vail), the sinister farm hand who is obsessed with his youthful employer, Laurey Williams (Andushka Lucas). It was memorably made clear in the famous dream choreographed by Agnes de Mille, although here replaced by a solo dancer, but the show has become enshrined more as being set in a golden world because of its superb score. Here we get a different approach to the world of territory folks about to celebrate becoming a brand new state, one which recognises just how wild the west was. The 1955 film closely supervised by Rogers and Hammerstein stuck pretty closely to the original stage show of 1943 although the haystack burning by Jud, which leads to his fight with Curly, was new. The film has rather set the view people have of the show and visually it is very much the Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post world of 19th century America Hollywood loved to put on the screen although even in that Eden there was a serpent in Jud.
This version turns that American Eden, which was shot in Arizona not Oklahoma, into the world of the country and western, re-orchestrates the score as blue grass music, and completely destroys the dream with a new ending. Laurey still fears Jud, but she is also tempted by him as he is far more interesting than Curly McLain, the guitar toting cowboy who has come a wooing and is the best beau territory folk can offer.
As for the locals, hearts of gold are scarce in this version, Ado Annie is going to spend the rest of her life sleeping with all who come her way, Will Parker is basically the village idiot, Aunt Eller as hard as nails and the celebration of the brand new state ends not with an accidental death but with a cold blooded murder and everyone conniving in getting the murderer off. It is, of course, how the west was born – with the gun, the weapon which still dominates American society. This is made clear as it all takes place in some kind of community hall whose walls are hung with gun racks full of rifles ready for men to take to the OK Corral.
The performances are very good. Arthur Darvill bashes the life out of his guitar with zest, Andushka Lucas is an appealing and conflicted Laurey, Marisha Wallace as Ado Annie performing I Can’t Say No in a brand new and thrilling way provides the show stopping moment, and Stavros Demetraki is nicely hoist on his own petard pedlar Ali Hakim. Patrick Vail as Jud is both a hunk and horrid, slightly more victim than villain, and James Davis is an appealing Will, as dumb as they come. Both were in the Broadway show.
The corn may still be as high as an elephant’s eye but the golden west of everybody’s dreams has turned into a state that will go on to change its abortion laws. The dream has curdled. The one real flaw are the party costumes in act two which make the women look like those knitted dolls that used to sit on top of lavatory rolls, but having seen it twice, while some things work less well than others, the production remains mind blowing. There have been other well sung and staged revivals but this one is different, provocative, thrilling and memorable – a great musical has been re-imagined and one could not ask for more.
Mike: Raphael Bushay.
Curly McLain: Arthur Darvill.
Will Parker: James Davis.
Ali Hakim: Stavros Demetraki.
Gertie Cummings: Rebekah Hinds.
Andrew Carnes: Greg Hicks.
Laurey Williams Andushka Lucas.
Lead Dancer: Marie-Astrid Mence.
Aunt Eller: Liza Sadovy.
Cord Elam: Ashley Samuels.
Jud Fry: Patrick Vail.
Ado Annie Carnes: Marisha Wallace.
Director: Jordan Fein, Daniel Fish.
Orchestrations & Arrangements & Music Supervision.: Daniel Kluger.
Choreographer: John Higinbotham.
Co Set Designers: Laura Jellinex, Grace Laubacher.
Costume Designer: Terese Wadden.
Lighting Designer: Scott Zielinski.
Sound Designer: Drew Levy.
Projection Designer: Joshua Thorson.
Co Musical Supervisor, Vocal Arrangements: Nathan Koci.
Musical Director: Tom Brady.
Dialect Coach: Sam Lilja.
Production photographs: Marc Brenner.