Stephanie, Francesca, Brian, Richard, and I saw *Oklahoma!* at Circle in the Square on 5/29/19. This new production originated at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn last year and was a hot ticket, it got a lot of buzz. We heard that it was transferring to Broadway, so we snatched up some tickets. I liked it a lot, I liked it much more than anyone else in my group (a LOT more than Richard).
*Oklahoma!* is a musical from 1943, the first collaboration between Rodgers and Hammerstein. It's seen as a milestone in American musical theatre - - never before had the songs, dialogue, staging, and dancing been integrated to such a degree. This production didn't change a word of the original script but told the story from a completely different point of view. It was updated to a contemporary setting and made much darker, more violent, and more disturbing than I would have thought possible.
The most stunning element of the show were the new arrangements by Daniel Kluger. The ensemble was pared down to just seven musicians and the music was given a strong country western flavor, entirely in keeping with the setting. I was crazy for the arrangements, they had me hearing the very familiar (overly familiar?) songs in a new and fresh way. I was NOT so wild for some of the singing. Damon Daunno as Curly and Rebecca Naomi Jones as Laurey have appealing voices but sang in a deliberately coarse and grating way too much of the time. I didn't feel it added anything, it made me uncomfortable on behalf of the singers.
Ali Stroker scored the biggest hit as Ado Annie, it was a star-making performance, she was taking her moment and wrestling it to the ground. The audience was crazy for her. I had seen her in the ensemble of the Deaf West 2015 Broadway revival of *Spring Awakening.* Her performance in that show marked the first time a performer in a wheelchair had been part of a Broadway cast. She's the real deal, I hope to see her in many more shows.
Mary Testa was another standout. She usually plays a wisecracking dame, and Aunt Eller is that type to a degree, but she played her without any cuteness and with plenty of backbone. It's always a pleasure to see a comic actor be given the chance to play something with more depth.
The dream ballet was the most daring moment in the show. The original production and movie had Laurey danced by a slim blonde ballerina in a white ruffled dress. This production had a solidly built African American modern dancer with a shaved head (the extraordinary Gabrielle Hamilton) wearing an oversized sequined pink T-shirt that said DREAM BABY DREAM. The music was a grungy, edgy medley of songs from the show, again completely unlike anything from the original. Not everyone was convinced. Stephanie said to me the next day, in a text, "Daring, perhaps, but to what end???"
Director Daniel Fish gets high marks from me for making the concept work, for taking this 20th century masterpiece and refashioning it in 21st century context. It's always a brave gamble for a director to make the audience feel bad for having a good time. I appreciated the challenge.
Here's a montage of "hypnotic footage" from the production:
And Celeste Holm, the original Ado Annie, doing "I'm Just a Girl Who Cain't Say No."