The cast of Oklahoma! give their final bows at Wyndham theatre in LondonZachary Dickerson with permission for Varsity

The Broadway classic, Oklahoma!, has returned to London’s West End for the first time in a quarter-century in a new production that maintains nearly all the original lyrics, music and text, but with a highly novel perspective as more topical themes, like sexuality and gun violence, are explored. The West End show is a transfer of the 2019 Broadway production, directed by Daniel Fish, which removes the original musical’s idealised vision of the all-American cowboy Curly McLain and, instead, paints a dystopian, noxious and brutal depiction of what is often an easy-going piece of theatre.

“Staying true to how the music originally sounded has always been paramount to reorchestration”

Daniel Kluger’s reorchestration gives Rodger and Hammerstein’s songs a thoroughly new character. Pared-down, modernised and given a “folk” sound, Kluger’s arrangement is a masterclass in updating a classic score for a musical revival. Of course, musical theatre scores are re-orchestrated all the time, whether this be due to a theatre’s physical specifications, because a production is going on tour or, controversially, when a producer wants to save money, as was the case with Phantom of the Opera when its band was nearly slashed in half and replaced with synthesisers in 2021.

Oklahoma! at the Olivier AwardsInstagram (@oklahoma.westend)

Nevertheless, staying true to how the music originally sounded has always been paramount to reorchestration. Besides musical theatre, the idea of updating classical works has long influenced opera. Camps of directors aligned with Regietheater (German for “Director’s Theatre”) promote the imposition of modern meanings onto traditional repertoire through staging and direction while preserving the original text and music – to touch these would be sacrilege!

“The atmosphere that Kluger’s arrangement elicits is closer to the ‘real’ America than the one induced by the original string orchestra”

These concerns are equally present in musical theatre. Thus, in the biography on his website, Kluger writes that he “re-conceived the score for a seven piece bluegrass band, simultaneously giving it a more contemporary sound while also evoking the world of territory era Oklahoma, without changing a note of the music.” That last part is important as it seems to have been written specifically to ease anxieties. Pearl-clutching Broadway fanatics can take a deep breath – the music has not changed!

And yet, though the notes have stayed the same, the music sounds radically different. The atmosphere that Kluger’s arrangement elicits is closer to the “real” America than the one induced by the original string orchestra. Yet, it remains sceptical of the illusion of authenticity it invokes. This Oklahoma! is successful because it recognises that America is not the “Beautiful Mornin’” depicted in the lyrics and classical stagings; it is a land of contradictions and one that constantly lays claim to authenticity. Hence why Damon Daunno, who played Curly McClain in the Broadway revival, lent more of a country style to his songs, adapting a genre that clings to a “rough and rugged” ideal but, in actuality, is touted by Nashville millionaires.


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The arrangement is most rebellious in the “dream ballet” sequence which serves as a prelude to Act II. Instead of the typical fever dream which depicts Laurey Williams choosing between Jud and Curly, Fish stages an interpretive dance in which the most American of things – the dream – becomes a nightmare. The opening bars evoke Jimi Hendrix’s restyling of the American national anthem at Woodstock for an age of disillusion and counterculture. This invocation of Hendrix’s act of musical defiance mirrors Kluger’s own modifications of a classic for a new era.

Such is this latest orchestration of Oklahoma!. It is a brilliant example of updating a work to speak for a new time and challenging preconceived notions of a Broadway classic.