Young Vic Theater Until June 25, 3 a.m.
In my opinion, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical has always suffered from tooth-itching salubrity.
This, however, laces the charm with acid. It’s radicalized, moody as a teenager and pretty straight to the point. In fact, it’s almost Woke-lahoma!
However, the production of Daniel Fish, imported from the off-Broadway and here co-directed by Jordan Fein, really works.
The actors chew corn and cans of beer. Liza Sadovy (above) (fresh out of Cabaret) is an Aunt Eller (‘Gennelman, shut up!’)
Moreover, the tunes are all intact, the characters present and correct and no one – a rarity – has changed sex. Faithful to the music of Richard Rodgers, something fresh, crazy and gripping emerges.
The walls of this small theater are adorned with a veritable arsenal of guns. The small folk band – complete with pedal steel guitar for added twang – is on stage the whole time, the bandleader waving when he’s not playing the squeezebox.
Who will take the beautiful Laurie to the social box? Curly, the handsome cowboy in leather leggings, or the festering farmer, Jud?
The actors chew corn and cans of beer. They’re clearly here and now, not stuck in the 1900s where the action takes place. Our heroine Laurey (the excellent Anoushka Lucas) is unsmiling and memorably impressed by Arthur Darvill’s baffled Curly, Liza Sadovy (fresh out of Cabaret) is Aunt Eller (“Gennelman, shut up!”), Marisha Wallace a glowing Teen Annie, with best Shakespearean actor Greg Hicks as his sinister, redneck father.
For fun, James Davis gives us Will Parker who has the IQ of a cow, while Stavros peddler Demetraki Ali looks suspiciously like Borat.
The actors are clearly in the here and now, not stuck in the 1900s where the action takes place. Marisha Wallace (above) a dazzling Teen Annie
But what horrors it evokes too. The misfit Jud is surprisingly played by Patrick Vaill as a pale wisp with the sad, glassy gaze of a failed rapist. He’s the American psychopath at the heart of this version, quietly terrifying, making the bidding war with Curly for Laurey’s picnic basket electric.
Is it pretentious? Yes a bit. Notably the prolonged blackouts and arguably the dreamy ballet with Marie-Astrid Mence prancing along to a searing electric guitar solo – Richard Rodgers meets Jimi Hendrix.
As the actors sing the title track, the catchy anthem to the state sounds almost sinister. Indeed, the show involves a question that most revivals never ask – what happened to the Indians?
There’s something accusatory about this version, which breathes new life into the innocent musical.
Especially for youngsters immune to the charm and cheese of big Broadway musicals, this cutting-edge reboot is a must.