-By Brenda Hillegas
Feature photo: Hannah Solow, Sean Grandillo and the company of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade
Pretty soon, Philadelphians will be able to experience Rodgers & Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! in a whole new way. From March 8 through March 20, the familiar songs and classic story will be presented in a reimagined way from director Daniel Fish. This is the version that won the 2019 Tony Award for best revival of a musical. Come to the Kimmel Cultural Campus Forrest Theatre to witness a new story without changing a single line of dialogue, along with an amazing, diverse cast that brings their own personalities and uniqueness to each role.
The incredible Hannah Solow is making her national tour debut as Gertie Cummings. Hannah is a NYC based comedian/writer/actor/singer who has performed regularly with Upright Citizens Brigade (one of my favorite improv theatres), the acclaimed Baby Wants Candy (an improvised musical), and holds a BFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Below, Hannah talks about this brand new version of OKLAHOMA!, how her improv and sketch background helps for this particular show, and what she loves to do off stage.
Q: This is your first national tour! Tell us about finding out the news you’d be joining the cast!
A: I had just left an acupuncture appointment and saw I had a voicemail from my agent. During said acupuncture appointment I had convinced myself that I didn’t get the show, so I was amping myself up to hear the bad news. I was still in an acupuncture daze when she told me so my response was, “…What?” Once I had woken up a bit, I was able to properly celebrate. I told my husband (he cried), FaceTimed my parents (they cried), called my sister (more crying). A lot of tears. Coming out of the pandemic, I really had no expectations for what the future held and this was an amazing surprise.
Q: Several touring cast members have been in the Broadway productions of OKLAHOMA! as well. What advice did you seek from them while preparing for your role?
A: The beautiful thing about this production is that we were never asked to replicate anything that was done on Broadway. Our director, Daniel Fish, encouraged us to bring ourselves to the roles. Additionally, because this was originally staged in the round, restaging for a proscenium stage brought a lot of opportunities to find new things. As we continue to perform the show, we are still learning and deepening our characterizations as well.
Q: This version of OKLAHOMA! is very different from the classic…without changing a word. Why do you think people who love the original will love this one?
A: We love the show too! We are dedicated to bringing these characters and their emotions, however complicated they may be, off the page and into 2022. As Curly says in the show, “Country is changing, gotta change with it.” The world is entirely different from when the show premiered in 1943 and our production reflects that. We haven’t changed the text—we’re looking at what it means right now, in this moment, and examining how we can deepen the emotions and themes that are already there. Additionally, our onstage 7 piece band really allows you to hear the music and lyrics in a new, distilled way. The music is as gorgeous as ever and Oscar Hammerstein’s jokes still hit! I think in the streaming era, we are often encouraged to passively consume content, but I challenge people to really lean forward and engage with what is onstage, even if it makes you feel differently than you expected.
Q: What’s your favorite scene or number from the production?
A: Sitting onstage, I really get a front row seat to the action and I’m constantly delighted by my cast mates. I’m biased, but they’re really good! One of my consistently favorite moments is the end of the Dream Ballet. Our entire cast is onstage together for the first and only time in the show. Gabrielle Hamilton, our outrageously talented Lead Dancer, is flying across the stage; the band is absolutely shredding; we’re in incredible costumes (designed by Terese Wadden); the music is so loud that the floor underneath us is shaking. I get chills every night!
I also love singing “Many a New Day” while shucking corn. It’s incredibly empowering. Some people might think of “Many a New Day” as a light and frothy song, but if you dig into the lyrics, it’s really about these women asserting their strength and agency. “Never have I wandered through the rye wondering where has some guy gone!” —AMEN! Gertie doesn’t have time to wander through the rye. She’s already onto the next man.
Q: You have a lot of sketch comedy and improv experience. How have these skills helped you in OKLAHOMA! performances?
A: Improv and sketch comedy have definitely helped me both on and off stage. Because we are onstage for most of the show, we need to be incredibly present the entire time. It’s imperative we are all listening to one another and listening is really at the core of improvisation. This show is at its core, about a community, and I trust that my cast mates will be there for me onstage and vice versa. Plus, you never know what’s going to happen with the corn we use! You have to be ready at any time for when that corn starts rolling or flying! And not to be corny (I’m sorry!), but saying yes (the first rule of improv) is always the start of the next adventure.
Q: It looks like you’ve been having a lot of fun on tour! What do you like to do in your downtime at each stop?
A: First priority is finding the best food. Years of watching the Food Network has trained me for this. I’d also like to thank eater.com for never steering me wrong. Special shoutouts to Kado No Mise in Minneapolis, Manny’s Delicatessen in Chicago, and Florence’s Restaurant in Oklahoma City for wonderful meals. Besides eating, I’m a big fan of visiting the local zoo or aquarium. There’s something peaceful about being outdoors and just hanging out with a bunch of sea lions. Perhaps it’s my California roots talking?
Q: Your bio says you like to create videos and songs from home…also with wigs sometimes? Have you been filming anything while on the road? And where can we find them!?
A: I travel with 2-3 wigs at all times. You really never know when you will be inspired! I am a terrible eavesdropper and traveling to new cities has introduced me to a plethora of interesting characters. I’m constantly writing down snippets of things I see or hear to use later. Writing and filming sketches and character videos allows me to stretch that creative muscle in a different way. I film in my hotel room and edit on my iPad—it’s a film studio on the go! Follow me on Instagram and TikTok at @babymcgoo and Twitter at @hamstertalk to see the madness.