RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S OKLAHOMA! Review by Gadi Elkon

Director Daniel Fish’s scaled back and stripped down reimagining of the classic 1943 musical is either going to inspire or detract.  This is certainly not the Oklahoma you remember!  Is it worth your time and money?  Here is my full review of the Broadway Dallas tour stop of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic.

Broadway Dallas is excited to present Rodgers & Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! at the Winspear Opera House through June 12. Over 75 years after Rodgers & Hammerstein reinvented the American musical, this is OKLAHOMA! as you’ve never seen or heard it before – reimagined for the 21st century.

The 2 hour 45 minute production, with 1 intermission, is by far the most gripping take on the near octogenarian musical.  Director Daniel Fish’s changes have scaled back the cast and focused the story on the hardships of rural living.  The production utilizes a simplistic open stage with farm tables and chairs that are intriguingly accented by a subtle back wall.  Along the wall are a group of musicians. Add in timely black out moments and video camera sequences that are projected on the back wall and this production looks different.  The overall feel of this presentation fits the wide open feel of Oklahoma itself.  The space also allows the actors to have free reign to cross back and forth over the stage adding to the small town feel.

The musical does still have the knee-slapping feel to certain numbers, especially the titular song.  The placement and reworking of choreography of the numbers themselves keeps you on edge to what is happening.   The core story of who will Laurey Williams decide on as her love interest is still central in the musical.  Our Curly is the cocky fella we come to fall for as his rival is a new Jud that is mysterious and dramatic.  Aunt Eller is more of a strong willed vet of the terrain than a loving old lady.  The show’s performances that stand out are the quirky and wild Ado Annie, goofy Will Parker, and conniving Ali Hakim.  Sis as Ado Annie deserves a special shout out as numbers like “I Cain’t Say No” and “All Er Nuthin'” are electrifying for Sis’ unique vocal quality is on full display.  Honestly, Sis alone is worth the price of admission as Ado Annie.  The character is just as lovable as our lead Laurey.  Sasha Hutchings brings a more realistic portrayal as Laurey and her constant back-and-forth take seems more honest.  Our Curly vs Jud battle has a much more psychological feel compared to classic productions.  The dirty ranch hand has been replaced by a darker introvert who is the exact opposite of the guitar playing lead that is Curly.  Our Jud’s, Christopher Bannow, long hair is a nice touch to the clean cut look of Sean Grandillo’s more classic Curly.  Having a color blind casting element really allows this production to touch more audience members and speaks to a more modern view of the rural experience.  For the evening I went Ugo Chukwu was great as Cord.  The before mentioned Ali Hakim is a nice cheeky portrayal by Benj Mirman and our Will Parker is done justice by the aptly named Hennessy Winkler (seriously what a name!).  Lastly, a special hollar to the lol laughter range of Hannah Solow as Gertie Cummings.

I will mention that I’ve never experienced a production that had as many walkouts after the first act.  Those that did stay did experience the continued boldness of the production.  The opening of Act Two is literally an electric take on the mindset of our lead character Laurey.  The loud number should hit older audiences that remember the music world’s change from acoustic to electric like in Bob Dylan’s career.  Just as jarring as that change was to the music universe this production’s changes feel as illuminating to this classic musical.

This isn’t the first production to test the norms of classic musicals and that bold quality is a necessity for the theater world.  This Oklahoma certainly isn’t what you remember but it is a production that tests your more and asks more of you.  Change can be tough but it is important that it happens.  In a year where DSM became BROADWAY DALLAS it seems completely understandable why this production of Oklahoma kicks off our summer.  Laurey Williams has a tough choice and so do you!

Be bold jump on that rascally bull and head to the Winspear Opera House.  .

You will more than likely be bucked off but it’ll be a ride you won’t forget anytime soon.

For more information – BROADWAY DALLAS OKLAHOMA.

 

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