Oh What a Beautiful Musical
Musicals can be an acquired taste especially when they end up all about the musical scenes and visual extravagance rather than the story. But there are some musicals which get it right, getting it spot on and deliver fantastic musical scenes but with a storyline which is the driving force to everything. One such musical is "Oklahoma!" which not only has one great musical scene after another featuring such songs as "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'" and "The Surrey With the Fringe On Top" but also has a solid storyline which works well to link all the music together. And it also features some wonderful performances be it the clean cut energy of Gordon MacRae or the brooding intensity of Rod Steiger. As such "Oklahoma!" is one of those musicals which is not just for those who enjoy the extravagance of a grand musical but will work for those who want a bit more than just memorable songs sung powerfully.
Curly Mclain (Gordon MacRae - By the Light of the Silvery Moon) and Laurey Williams (Shirley Jones - Two Rode Together) spend so much time flirting and playing games with each other that Laurie's Aunt Eller (Charlotte Greenwood) doesn't know whether they are coming or going. But Aunt Eller's hired hand Jud Fry (Rod Steiger - Doctor Zhivago) also has his own ideas and hopes to get a tumble with Laurey when he asks her to a local dance. At the same time Will Parker (Gene Nelson) returns to town with the hope of winning the hand of Ado Annie (Gloria Grahame - The Greatest Show on Earth) after her father told him he needed to have money first, except Ado Annie has found herself in the company of sly Persian Peddler Ali Hakim (Eddie Albert) and it looks like Will will loose out. Well it's sure to be settled when they all get to the dance and the hamper auction.
One of my usual gripes when it comes to musicals is that the storylines are usually either very weak or do not really end up driving the musical scenes. "Oklahoma!" is most certainly different with its two storylines about young men trying to win the affections of two women and in doing so having to deal with a brutish ranch hand and a shallow peddler. Now I am not going to say that the storyline to "Oklahoma!" is complex as we watch Curly trying to win the heart of Laurey as he has to deal with Jud or when Will finds himself up against not only a peddler but also the father of Annie, but it is enough. The important thing is that whilst you know a happy ending is on the cards the troubled romances are enough not only to be interesting but be the driving force to the numerous musical scenes.
What is kind of interesting, and I am not really one for looking for deeper meanings to what is really just entertainment, is the sexual undertones. Yes "Oklahoma!" has sexual undertones be it Jud Fry with his interest in nudey pics or Will and Annie trying to get time for themselves away from the crowd to get up to what courting couples do. In one way it's stupid to read too much into what is really a fun musical but it does give another layer to what is a superb musical.
Of course a big reason why "Oklahoma!" is such a great musical is down to the songs and you have to say pretty much every song is not only memorable it also gets your toe tapping. The first time you hear Gordon MacRae deliver a faultless "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'" you are just captivated and to follow it up with the comical "The Surrey With the Fringe On Top" is just as good. And it goes on with pretty much every musical number working beautifully, although I have to say I find it hard to take Rod Steiger seriously when he starts singing especially when he is paired up with the brilliant Gordon MacRae.
And whilst Gordon MacRae delivers the musical numbers brilliantly he also delivers when it comes to acting out the story be it when it delivers drama or comedy, with the hamper auction scene being brilliantly amusing. And MacRae is not alone because Shirley Jones as Laurey, Gloria Grahame as Ado Annie and Gene Nelson as Will Parker all deliver solid performances when it comes to the acting which complement their singing and dancing talents brilliantly. But for me whilst MacRae, Jones, Grahame and Nelson command the musical elements of "Oklahoma!" it is Rod Steiger as Jud Fry who delivers the captivating acting performance. Steiger makes Jud a mean, brooding character forcefully stomping around in the background making him both attractive but also frightening.
What this all boils down to is that "Oklahoma!" is a stunning musical which pretty much gets everything right. Being a musical it delivers those memorable musical numbers and great songs but it is driven by a storyline which ties all the musical fun together perfectly. And it comes to life thanks to the brilliant performances be it the musical numbers where MacRae, Jones, Grahame and Nelson really come in to their own or the acting with Rod Steiger on great form as the brooding Jud Fry. As such "Oklahoma!" is a musical with mass appeal because it is more than just one song and dance scene after another.