feature image: Hennessy Winkler, Sis, and the company of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade
I saw Daniel Fish’s retelling of Oklahoma! on Broadway in 2019 for two reasons. One- at that point I had never seen a “classic” on Broadway before. Two- I squeezed three shows into a day and a half, so the promise of free chili and cornbread at intermission was music to the ears of my very tight budget. I was going in blind (which I highly encourage everyone to do sometime, especially for this revival) and hungry.
But just like Ado Annie, I quickly fell in love with what was directly in front of me.
You won’t get a free meal at intermission during the touring production, but you’ll be too busy picking your jaw up off the floor anyway. Oklahoma!, now at the Kimmel Cultural Campus Forrest Theatre through March 20th, marks the first time a First-Class Equity production of the musical has toured North America in over 40 years. That’s a big deal itself, but aside from that fact- this version is a must see! The music, lyrics and book by Rodgers and Hammerstein is all still there- word for word- just different. New chorography, staging, and nuances create a dark and realistic imagining that will have you dancing and singing along to your favorite showtunes one minute, then gasping at never before realized undertones of the story the next. A bare bones set draws the audience in and grabs your focus. Fish’s Oklahoma! removes the surface of this beloved classic- the big numbers, the fancy costumes- and exposes the underlying themes.
This is the most beautiful, talented cast I have seen in a long time. Sis (FX’s Pose and organizer of the Trans March on Broadway) is powerful, funny, and brings Ado Annie’s playful filtrations to the 21st century. “I Cain’t Say No” is a showstopping number! Scenes involving Ado Annie and love interests Will (Hennessy Winkler) and Ali (Benj Mirman) are often hilarious and over-the-top. They work well on stage together. To contrast that trio, Sasha Hutchings (who was in the revival on Broadway as well as the original cast of Hamilton) is a deep, serious version of Laurie. Watching Sean Grandillo (Deaf West’s Spring Awakening) as Curly and Christopher Bannow (also in the Broadway revival) as Jud interact with Laurie and each other is often chilling. Who knew that so much more could be said without changing a word of the book? The theatre goes completely dark during a scene with Curly and Jud to emphasize a different side of the Oklahoma dialogue. Barbara Walsh, who was in the 1981 national tour of Oklahoma, does a wonderful job as a bold and quick Aunt Eller. Comedian Hannah Solow makes the audience laugh as Gertie Cummings, I loved all of her scenes. Rounding out the cast is Patrick Clanton as Mike and Ugo Chukwu as Cord. Both Andrew Carnes, as Mitch, and Gabrielle Hamilton, as the dream sequence dancer, reprise their Broadway roles.
Oklahoma! received seven Tony nominations in 2019 and won Best Revival of a Musical. It challenges playwrights to unravel what we’ve known for decades and encourages us to see a familiar story from a different point of view. It also proves that all it takes for a character to come to life is a really good actor- no matter what gender, skin tone or size. Come on, we all know Hamilton and his friends didn’t actually have rap battles. They looked nothing like the actors portraying them on stage even. So if you loved that version of “America then, told by America now”, then you should have the same mindset when visiting early 1900s Oklahoma farm country today in 2022. Open your eyes to this revival’s story and characters. There’s room at the box social for everyone.
Tickets to Oklahoma! can be purchased here. Be aware the show contains fog, violence, and gunshots. The guns on stage are props and live ammunition is not kept on site. Oklahoma! is Broadway’s first gun neutral show, donating a minimum of $100 per gun on stage/in the theatre to Gun Neutral‘s 503c3 non-profit.
pitc black scenes. hilarious love triangles. Sis makes Annie’s actions okay! Why can’t you enjoy