Image Entertainment // 1999 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // January 15th, 2013
Chicks and geese and ducks better scurry...
Long before he was a bo-hunky box office behemoth, Hugh Jackman studded up the stage with his more the capable singing and dancing. Yes, before Wolverine and X-Men, before Real Steel and various other mainstream movie manipulations, the Australian actor was earning his keep in musicals, the most famous of which was his turn as gay Downunder icon Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz. Jackman earned a Tony Award for his work, yet few had a chance to see that role, or the one that actually defined his showtune chops.
Famed UK director Trevor Nunn cast the relative newcomer as Curly in a re-imagined revival of the classic Rogers and Hammerstein show Oklahoma!, leading to rave reviews around the globe...except in America, where a mostly US cast replaced the predominantly English players. Luckily, the production got the idea of filming the show for audiences unable to see Jackman in action. The result, now available on Blu-ray for the first time, has been making the PBS rounds for several years. For those who've seen it, one thing is clear: the critical kudos the actor is earning now for his work in Les Miserables are certainly no fluke. Jackman was born to Broadway.
Oklahoma!, for those who've lived under a Glee-less rock for the last few decades, centers on the famed state, an upcoming box social, and the romantic intrigue between a cowboy named Curly (Jackman, Australia), a lovely gal named Laurey (Josefina Gabrielle), and a rough farmhand named Jud (Shuler Hensley, Van Helsing). After toying with and teasing our lead's affections, Laurey decides to spite him and attend the dance with the surly roughneck, not realizing that he is dangerously obsessed with her. Jud will literally stop at nothing to get Laurey. In the meantime, a rivalry between the cattlemen and the agricultural community is turning increasingly angry, while another gal, Ado Annie (Vicki Simon) can't make up her mind about which beau to be with: the lovesick Will Parker (Jimmy Johnston, Upstairs, Downstairs) or Persian peddler Ali Hakim (Peter Polycarpou, De-Lovely). Naturally, it all comes to a head at the planned gathering.
There is no faulting Oklahoma! Sure, it's as corny as Kansas in autumn and dated as the hem on a Victorian lass's petticoat, but it works. It's no wonder that it's often cited as more than just a masterpiece. Yes, it did break new ground for the musical, taking the variety act element out of the genre. Yes, Agnes de Mille's choreography (as interpreted by Susan Stroman) remains a marked departure from the tap and toe tendencies of the format. And the songs...oh, the songs just swoon with Tin Pan Alley perfection. It's almost impossible not to love "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," I Cain't Say No," "People Will Say We're in Love," and the anthemic title tune. It's a standard, a mainstay, a stick-in-your-head piece of theatrical heaven. It would take a lot to screw it up -- and luckily, Nunn and company have no real desire to mess with perfection. Oh course, for those of you (like yours truly) who have supped on Gordon MacCrae, Shirley Jones, and Rod Steiger all these years, new is a bit more than merely novel.
Still, this cast demands attention for everything it gets right. Hensley won a Tony for his work as Jud, and since he sings better than Mr. In the Heat of the Night, it's not hard to see why. His interpretation of the character is a borderline psychopathic. Ms. Gabrielle has a great voice, if none of Ms. Jones' ethereal grace. As Aunt Eller, the voice of reason 'round these parts, UK staple Maureen Lipman is outstanding, and the rest of the players perform with spirit and verve. But it's Jackman who demands attention, and his work here is remarkable. As sunny as his famed superhero is sullen, he walks away with every moment of every scene he is in. His Curly is fierce, determined, lovable, and just enough of a rogue to require a slightly jaundiced eye. Oh, he's perfect for Laurey -- she's just too fickle to see it. By the time he has to take on Jud, the entire show is electrified. We can't wait for the confrontation, and are pleased with the celebratory outcome. This is a great Oklahoma! If you've never seen it, you could do a lot worse. If you have, this update is outstanding.
As for the Blu-ray treatment, Image takes its previous DVD and spruces it up a bit, at least visually. The 1080p, AVC-encode offers a very cinematic feel (the show was filmed on a set similar to the circular stage setting) with the 1.78:1 aspect ratio adding to the feel. The colors pop, the implied softness and pastoral nature of the production a welcome relief from some present contrasts. As an optical experience, it's first-rate. On the sound side, however, something weird happens. Image removes a previously available 5.1 mix, opting instead for a single, lossless 2.0 stereo track. Weird. While very good, the lack of immersion and directional/spatial elements is obvious. Finally, we are treated to a minor making-of featurette, which details the desire to capture the show for posterity as well as the position of the Rogers and Hammerstein Organization on the revival. It's interesting, if barely.
It's a shame Hollywood has no idea what to do with its seminal song and dance talents. Individuals like Tom Hanks, Anne Hathaway, John Travolta, and Hugh Jackman have to wait for the big event arenas...if ever...in order to make their musical chops known. Here, we can see one of these amazing actors strutting his stuff, and it's a joy to behold. Pay attention Tinseltown: the formerly DOA format is not dead. This take on Oklahoma! proves it.
Not guilty. Highly entertaining.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated