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THIS stripped down, stylish reworking of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 classic arrives from the US with a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, and rightly so. It is a sassy, sexy and at times very dark reimagining of a Midwest community hoedown and the tensions between locals and outsiders.
Daniel Kluger’s re-orchestration of the score is a triumph. Many of the songs have been reworked to incorporate contrasting styles within the same number so Country and Western rhythms dissolve into soulful solos and familiar foot-stomping numbers blend with a cappella renditions.
Likewise John Heginbotham's choreography highlights the uneasy dichotomy between the known and the unknown with a nightmarish ballet sequence to contrast with the traditional line dancing routines.
Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein’s direction keeps most of the cast, on the school hall style stage, as audience to the unfolding drama like any small town community.
Atmospheric sequences between the outsider, Jud Fry played by Patrick Vaill as an emotionally crippled, sexually repressed farm worker, and Curly McLain’s charismatic, swaggering cowboy are played out in the dark or with close-up videos to emphasise the murderous tension between them.
James Davis’s, pictured, salt-of-the-earth cowpoke struggling with his feelings, thoughts and calculations injects much of the humour alongside his larger-than-life goodtime girl, Ado Annie played with gusto by Marisha Wallace, pictured.
The women are no pliant partners and far more than mere romantic interests but bubbling with attitude and self-confidence and know exactly how to treat their menfolk. Liza Sadovy’s Aunt Eller is the tough, pragmatic voice of the community and Anoushka Lucas’s Laurey a highly complex, headstrong heroine who will always decide her own destiny.
None of the dialogue has been cut but the sexual tension and innuendo injected into the action are very much of the now. The modern western costume and faded prairie backdrop are only enhanced by gun-racks around the wall and allow the songs and dance routines to sparkle.
This is a bold and daring production that is likely to create many new converts to Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Runs until June 25, box-office: youngvic.org
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