“Which one do you like best?” Laurey asks man-mad Ado Annie as she juggles her many suitors. “Whichever one I’m with,” comes the inevitable reply. It’s a bit like that with John Wilson and musical theatre. Every time you leave his annual Proms concert with the John Wilson Orchestra absolutely convinced that this year’s choice – My Fair Lady, Kiss Me, Kate, and now Oklahoma! is the best ever. The thing is – it’s always true.
Dusted off and polished up by Wilson himself, the Oklahoma! score has never sounded fresher or fuller than it did here in a complete-and-unabridged rendering that reinstated not only the overture, but also an extended ballet dream-sequence and lashings of orchestral offcuts. Running at over three hours the result could easily have palled, but such is the energy, the joy, the overwhelming affection of this ensemble that they could have carried on all night and the crowd would still have wanted more.
Filling the gaps in the slightly hokey story with big accents and even bigger emotions (and yes, more chaps than a Etonian reunion), Wilson’s cast two-stepped their way around Alistair David’s exuberant choreography, cranking out the big tunes as they went. Nathaniel Hackmann’s Curly was the king of an impeccable cast, though Belinda Lang’s sassy Aunt Eller and Marcus Brigstocke’s not- the-least-bit Persian Ali Hakim also made their mark.
What was most striking though, among the gingham and buggy-rides, barn-dances and baked goods, was the darkness. The extended cut gives this big-hearted musical more space for misfit Jud Fry, giving the show both greater depth and discomfort. Not enough, of course, to derail the rip-roaring happy ending, but enough to make the show feel unexpectedly contemporary. Oklahoma! may be even older than Aunt Eller, but it’s ageing every bit as well.