By Norm Robins
Oklahoma tells the story in song and dance of the love triangle among cowboy Curley, farmhand and scary guy Jud, and the young, beautiful farm girl with a subsidiary plot of the cowboy Will and his flirtatious girlfriend Ado Annie.
Based on the 1931 novel Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Rigs. It opened on Broadway in 1943. It was box office boffo running for 2212 performances. It has been performed over and over again in revivals all over the world. It is a favorite of community theaters and college and high school education programs. Composer and lyricist Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II won the 1944 Pulitzer Prize for it as well as the 2019 Tony Award for best revival of a musical.
Standing on the shoulders of its predecessor Showboat, it is a book musical. That is, it is it is a play where the story is integral to the music and vice-versa. It is a serious work of literature, not just a lot of comedy routines. At the time this was innovative.
The BBC Proms perform some of the greatest works imaginable at the cavernous Royal Albert Hall, and this is no exception. Conductor John Wilson brings a 40-piece orchestra to the concert to supplement a great cast with some of the most beautiful voices ever to grace a stage.
The British view of the opening of the American west is fun to watch. All cowboys are wearing sidearms and chaps. That’s silly. Sidearms were carried and chaps were worn on cattle drives driving herds north from Texas to the railheads in Kansas. When cowboys do their work, a pistol would simply interfere. Chaps protected their legs and their leggings from the chapparal on the trail. But to a barn dance? Egad.
That said, the cast got the accents mostly right, and their voices are so beautiful it is difficult to care about any small faults. And John Wilson’s orchestra would stand on its own as a great performance. Nathaniel Hackmann’s Curly sang the most beautiful “Surry with the Fringe on Top” I have ever heard. All the actors/singers are in top form. Ado Annie is a great singer despite her inclusion on occasion of a cockney accent into the American west.
You can watch this performance being streamed from BBC Proms at