Director Trevor Nunn's London revival of Oklahoma!, produced under the auspices of the Royal National Theatre, which opened at the National's Olivier Theatre on July 15, 1998, and transferred to the West End on January 27, 1999, was a powerful reimagining of a classic musical for the '90s in the tradition of the National's earlier Carousel. Remembered as a landmark of the 1940s that influenced the development of the integrated musical, Oklahoma! was the victim of its own success in subsequent decades, often seen as outdated and sentimental. But director James Hammerstein blew the cobwebs off it in 1979, and Nunn did the same thing nearly 20 years later, giving the show a more realistic feel. Unlike director Nicholas Hytner, whose Carousel paved the way for this production, Nunn didn't so much emphasize the show's darker aspects (there aren't that many in Oklahoma!) as infuse it with energy and Western enthusiasm. Casting boisterous Hugh Jackman as Curly and pairing him with vivacious Josefina Gabrielle as Laurey didn't hurt, either. The rest of the principal cast doesn't quite keep up (and Vicki Simon's Ado Annie has a bit too much of a legitimate voice for her comic role), but the chorus certainly does, and even though you can't see multiple Tony winner Susan Stroman's choreography, you can, for the first time on an Oklahoma! recording, hear the full-length dream "Ballet." There have been many recordings of Oklahoma!, and the best of them represent their times -- the original Broadway cast album defining the World War II era, the original soundtrack characteristic of the widescreen film musicals of the 1950s, the 1979 Broadway revival cast a reaffirmation of American values in the post-Vietnam period. This is an Oklahoma! for the '90s, full of imagination and technical know-how, and extended to full CD length.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann