Review Roundup: North American Tour of OKLAHOMA! Takes the Stage; What Are the Critics Saying?

The tour began performances at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN on November 9, 2021

By: Nov. 17, 2021
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The North American tour of Rogers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! began performances at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN on November 9, 2021 and will continue to play over 25 cities during the 2021-2022 season including stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Chicago and Nashville, and more.

The cast includes Sasha Hutchings (Oklahoma! Broadway, original Broadway cast of Hamilton) as Laurey Williams and Sean Grandillo (Deaf West's Spring Awakening) as Curly McLain, joined by Christopher Bannow (Oklahoma! Broadway) as Jud Fry, Sis ("Pose") as Ado Annie Carnes, Hennessy Winkler as Will Parker, Benj Mirman (Oklahoma! Bard Summerscape) as Ali Hakim, Barbara Walsh (Falsettos, Company, Oklahoma! National Tour in 1981) as Aunt Eller, Hannah Solow (The New One) as Gertie Cummings, Patrick Clanton (School of Rock, Sister Act tours) as Mike and Ugo Chukwu ("Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt") as Cord Elam. Mitch Tebo (Andrew Carnes) and Gabrielle Hamilton (Lead Dancer) also reprise their roles from the Broadway production. Gillian Hassert, Cameron Anika Hill, Hunter Hoffman, Scott Redmond, Gwynne Wood and Jordan Wynn join the cast as understudies.

Let's see what the critics are saying...

Orpheum Theatre - Minneapolis, MN

Megan Siemieniak, BroadwayWorld: The small company beautifully brings these themes to light. Sean Grandillo's (Curly) sultry take on "The Surrey With The Fringe On Top" could make anyone swoon. Sasha Hutchings brings deep complexity to Laurey's inner musings. Christopher Bannow pushes the audience to look at Jud Fry as more than a surly and lonely farm hand. and Sis absolutely stole the show as Ado Annie. Each member of the company brings something fresh to the table.

Joe Sarafolean, BroadwayWorld: If there was a glimmer of light (that wasn't shining from the rafters), it was Sis's portrayal of Ado Annie who brings down the house multiple times. Her rendition of, "I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No" was just the pick me up that the audience needed to try to soldier on through the first act. Her comedic timing definitely made for entertaining theatre but sadly it was not enough to carry the rest of the production.

Mary Aalgaard, Play Off The Page: All the songs are from the original score, but they sound different, especially the final number after the wedding scene/tragedy. The title song is not as jubilant as what we're used to. Marina and I agreed, we liked the show, but not the ending. It's a reimagined work, telling a more realistic story of America's violent past, with a wonderfully diverse cast. Some scenes are disturbing. Others are still humorous. Overall, it's entertaining and thoughtful. After reading other reviews, I wanted to see this adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein's 1943 musical, and I'm glad I did.

Arthur Dorman, Talkin' Broadway: Fish found ways to use this very same play-not a word of the original text is altered-to illuminate harsh truths about our nation's past, and used the same melodic songs to reveal the ways in which flaws imbedded in the characters are linked inextricably to flaws in the premise of their country. We enter the theater and are confronted by Laura Jellinek's stunning set, a generic looking community hall, with stark lighting and nondescript sandy-beige walls.

Chris Hewitt, Star Tribune: Once you see Fish's take, it's hard to imagine any other "Oklahoma!" This is, after all, a show that has always included: women being bid on at a picnic basket auction where the hijinks can't mask the stricken look on the auction items' faces; a town conspiring to cover up a murder, and a crude father outright selling his daughter. Fish explores all of that unpleasantness in this production, which has been rejiggered from the intimate Broadway staging and loses some danger and energy in the vast Orpheum.

Peace Center - Greenville, SC

Paul Hyde, Greenville Journal: Fish's production constantly surprises with such touches as video projections of the actors and some scenes played entirely in darkness. Other scenes are static, with actors seated, or surprisingly slow-moving. With intermission, the musical clocks in at almost three hours. Though there's an abundance of laughs, this production is often more thought-provoking than merely joyful. This staging's strength lies in its ability to subvert expectations by locating unexpected nuance and shadows in a beloved classic.

Sandy Staggs, Carolina Curtain Call: A charming Hennessy Winkler is the footloose and intelligence-free Will Parker ("Kansas City") who has spent his $50 for his gal's hand in marriage (the girl who can't say no Ado Annie played by Sis) on frivolous and naughty items in the big city. Sis, a transgender actor, is a bold and shining example of inclusive casting, and a departure vocally (an alto) from the soprano twang of Ali Stoker, the wheelchair bound performer who won the Tony for Featured Actress in the original production. Her other suitor - forced by her father's shotgun barrel - is the traveling peddler Ali Hakim, portrayed without a Persian accent with understated, deadpan perfection by Benj Mirman.

Benedum Center for the Performing Arts - Pittsburgh, PA

Greg Kerestan, BroadwayWorld: There's no way around it: Daniel Fish's Oklahoma! is controversial by design. It's the most staid and traditional musical of its era (daring thought it was at the time), reimagined as full-on Charles L. Mee-style experimental theatre. It was scary. It was daring. It was topical. It was uncomfortable- often by design, occasionally not. And it caught probably half of the audience completely off guard, expecting rope tricks and cowboys doing hitch kicks and singing with vibratos wide enough to drive a surrey with a fringe on top through. This Oklahoma!, in a word, f-cks.

CIBC Theatre - Chicago, IL

Kathleen Anwar, BroadwayWorld: Nevertheless, this first of musicals has faced increased scrutiny with younger generations for being old-fashioned, folksy, and traditionally white-washed- so the task of modernizing the show for a new audience was ripe for the taking. Though director Daniel Fish does just that with this Tony-winning revival, one fears that the things making the original so good were uprooted for the sake of being edgy and inventive.

Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: Given all that, director Daniel Fish's radical 2018 Broadway revival (or, more honestly, adaptation) is not so much an imposition on the material as you might think. Still, you should know that this production mostly does not deliver a feel-good experience, especially in its most radical last few minutes.

Albert Williams, Chicago Reader: This is Oklahoma! as Epic Theater, in the style of Erwin Piscator or Bertolt Brecht. The audience is constantly reminded that the people onstage are actors, not the characters whose dialogue they are speaking and songs they are singing. Most scenes are played under a glaring white light, but some moments unfold in near-total darkness, with the actors speaking into handheld microphones-and, sometimes, with their faces projected larger than life via live video.

Hedy Weiss, WTTW: Billed as New York director Daniel Fish's "modernization" (and created in advance of the 1943 musical's 75th anniversary), this production might be considered a grotesque parody of the original were it to be done as, say, a scene on "Saturday Night Live." But in its current form, it is just a warped and destructive version of its source. It's both a sad introduction for young audiences who have never seen it in its true form and a spirit-crushing experience for all those who have seen it many times throughout the years. And this is not simply about a matter of nostalgia; it is about a matter of distortion.

Steven Oxman, Chicago Sun Times: It's wonderfully weird and weirdly wonderful. It's radical while remaining true to the text of the original and forcing us to see - or hear - it anew. It's dark - sometimes literally as blackouts and floods of dark colors are not uncommon. It's also very funny, injecting the romantic comedy components with unending sexual tension expressing itself in insults.

Dennis Polkow, New City Stage: Jud Fry (Christopher Bannow) is usually played as a heavy, but here is a more sympathetic character who can even generate some sparks with Laurey (Sasha Hutchings) before his darker side is more subtly revealed. And in case we might miss it, those scenes are played in the dark, literally.

Civic Center - Oklahoma City, OK

Adrienne Proctor, BroadwayWorld: This modernized version is the Oklahoma! you know. But also, it isn't. It's new and fresh, dark and haunting, serious and disturbing, funny and moving, but surprisingly, not a single lyric or word of dialogue has been changed. This Oklahoma! is re-staged to speak to modern audiences, but the story is the same.

Shea's Buffalo - Buffalo, NY

Michael Rabice, BroadwayWorld: Fish seems to be fascinated by the subtext in OKLAHOMA! Scenes of drama and despair literally are played in total darkness, with the actors speaking into hand held microphones. Later a hand held video camera projects close ups of the actor's face on the back wall of the set. All concept of subtlety is lost. The worst offense comes with the death of Jud. The newly married couple are covered in ricocheted blood as Curly pulls the trigger. Not since the Gothic opera "Lucia di Lammermoor" has a blood soaked bridal gown been more perverse. As the lights come down on a reprise of the title song, Curly strums with anger while Laurey is left stunned, stamping her feet and spinning center stage. Misery has sucked the life out of this Oklahoma farm and it is hard to ever fathom another beautiful morning.

Ann Marie Cusella, Welcome 716: The acting is of high quality. Sasha Hutchings as Laurey has a beautiful voice and excellent acting chops. She is at once an innocent and a very shrewd young woman whose sexual games with the two men are the catalyst for the misery that ensues. Sis plays Ado Annie in a hilarious and sweet performance that is charming and goofy and full of good will. Hennessey Winkler is a hoot as Will, as is Benj Mirman as Ali. Hannah Solow's laugh as Gertie will set your teeth on edge. Barbara Walsh as Aunt Eller, the woman who runs the town, is caustic as well as kind, and very aware of her own power. Mitch Tebo as Andrew has great comic timing.

Anthony Chase, Buffalo News: This production reminds us of the ingredients that made "Oklahoma" great in the first place. True, you will not hear soaring voices like those of Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae, but you will probably focus on the dialogue and the complex ironies of the songs as never before. You will be plunged into darkness and obliged to focus on some very dark dialogue. "Pore Jud Is Daid" will not provide comic relief. At times, Fish deploys technology to advance the storytelling: microphones, video projections and one bloody special effect that amplifies the final scene spectacularly. The famed choreography by Agnes DeMille has been updated by John Heginbotham and is compellingly danced by Gabrielle Hamilton.

Forrest Theatre - Philadelphia, PA

Chloe Rabinowitz, BroadwayWorld: Sean Grandillo brings out the boyish cockiness of Curly, his confidence realistically cut with both youthful pride and insecurity that play on Laurey's emotions. Sasha Hutchings gives life to Laurey's deep wanting -and conflicting feelings about that wanting. With Hutchings, Laurey's story is about more than deciding between her two suitors, it evolves into a lesson about developing and trusting her instincts as a woman, and maturing into herself.

CJ Higgins, Philadelphia Weekly: All of the heavier topics of this tour aside, watching this show was pure and absolute fun. From the outstanding work of the ensemble to a corn and Bud Light splash zone (yup, you read that right), this was a show I would absolutely watch again despite my previous misgivings about the original text.

Providence Performing Arts Center - Providence, RI

Erica Cataldi-Roberts, BroadwayWorld: Without changing a word of the book or lyrics, director Daniel Fish has created a revival of the 1943 musical that highlights different aspects of the material simply by changing the tone in which scenes are presented. The story has always been one of a community banding together against an outsider, but that aspect of the show is usually buried in favor of the sunnier, romantic elements of the plot. Not so this time.

Frank O'Donnell, WUN: I'm being a little flip, but I don't know how else to deal with this particular show. Every song has been rearranged, and not all in a good way. There are moments when actors, who are wearing body mics, grab hand-held or corded microphones, mostly so they can be heard over the band, I guess.

Durham Performing Arts Center - Durham, NC

Nicole Ackman, BroadwayWorld: I was curious to see if they could successfully transfer such a unique staging to a tour, which would have to happen in traditional theaters rather than in the round. Of course, adjustments had to be made, but I was impressed by how much they managed to preserve. The production did lose some of its intimacy and intensity - and the cornbread and vegetarian chili served at intermission for free - but it maintained its overall vision. Most of the performers remain on stage throughout many of the numbers, even ones that their characters aren't in, stressing the idea of the community in which these events are playing out.

Kennedy Center - Washington, DC

Ken Kemp, BroadwayWorld: It's a shame that director Daniel Fish (and the other creative geniuses who "reimagined" this production) felt led to take a machete to a show that was good enough to run for 2,200 performances when it debuted on Broadway in 1943. By far the most well-received parts of the performance were the segments of the original musical that survived intact. The audience laughed at the jokes, and the show moved briskly when the cast actually performed Oklahoma! - sadly, the talents of much of the cast are wasted trying to plod through the new material.

Susan Brall, MD Theatre Guide: If you are taken aback by the changes remember that Rogers & Hammerstein based their first collaboration on the unsuccessful 1931 play "Green Grow the Lilacs," a little darker and cornier than the famous musical. "OKALHOMA!" was a huge success, and the first of many for Rogers & Hammerstein. It won the Pulitzer and Theatre World Award in the 1940s and a special Tony on it's 50th Anniversary in 1993. This 2019 version also won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.

John Stoltenberg, DC Metro: The singing will sometimes sound growly, yodelly, sometimes on mics with selective reverb and subwoofer, but the ensemble sings throughout with a similar commitment to expressing the characters' truth not simply for pretty's sake. To my ears, the voices in this company surpass those on the very excellent original Broadway cast album (available below). And I can attest that the acoustics for this roadshow, even from the back of the house, are very good indeed (sound design is by Drew Levy).

Tennessee Performing Arts Center - Nashville, TN

Jeffrey Ellis, BroadwayWorld: As beloved as Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae (and every subsequent Laurey and Curly I've encountered over the years) remain to me as the leading players of Oklahoma!, the national touring cast are every bit as captivating and just as remarkable. Sasha Hutchings is a long, tall drink of water as Laurey, her stage presence proving as evocative as any actor previously seen in the role. Her Laurey is alluring and fiery, determined and intelligent - there's nothing of the simpering farmgirl about her; instead she is forthright and outspoken, even if she still longs to make Curly jealous by going to the social with Jud Fry. Similarly, Sean Grandillo somehow seems younger and leaner that some Curlys we've encountered, but none of those others could have possibly exuded more charm nor more raw sex appeal that he does as he strides onto the Williams farmplace, crooning "Oh, Whar a Beautiful Mornin'" to woo his intended and to outrageiously flirt with Aunt Eller (played with grit and wit by the luminous Barbara Walsh). Grandillo and Hutchings have onstage chemistry to spare and their playful banter seems somehow more loaded than we remember.

Winspear Opera House - Dallas, TX

Susan Kamyab, Red Carpet Crash: Fish's revival of the beloved Broadway classic is far from a traditional musical production. The set lacks color with wooden walls and tables, the cast sits around until their turn to speak, and there is no big musical, choregraphed numbers. This show is much more relaxed, and the dance numbers seem less rehearsed, with the exception of a emotionally heavy, solo dance in the second opening act.

Emily Short, BroadwayWorld: Despite the forced grim nature of the production, there were many elements of this performance that should be celebrated, especially the skilled acting and singing. Sasha Hutchings as Laurey Williams and Sean Grandillo as Curly McLain played their roles well individually, and their chemistry was undeniable. I enjoyed watching their connection change from when Curly initially tried to woo Laurey to when they dueted "People Will Say We're in Love (Reprise)" in Act II.

Bass Performance Hall - Fort Worth, TX

Brian Kendall, Fort Worth: In my humble opinion, I found the musical brilliant and well worth the price of admission. Outside of a slightly off-key performance by the actress who portrayed Aunt Eller, the performances were top-notch and pitch-perfect. I would also argue that this retelling patches up parts of the original I found disturbing and presents the musical's nuances in a daring and thought-provoking way. Much like the city we call home, the performance is all at once modern and traditional (where banjos and hoodies find common ground). Despite its title, it's the most Fort Worth musical I've ever seen. If Tuesday's reception is any indication, it appears we have a long way to go before all Fort Worthians are accepting of such change.

Golden Gate Theatre - San Francisco, CA

Linda Hodges, BroadwayWorld: Director Daniel Fish's vision for Oklahoma! could hardly be more novel, brilliant or disturbing. From beginning to end, through and through, the darker elements of the show actually shine the brightest, highlighting the edgy and the scary, compelling the audience/nation to confront the fact that, unlike the beloved opening number, everything is not going our way. It's all the more striking that with all of its novel qualities, Fish, almost as if on a dare, doesn't change a word of the original script, succeeding in making the contrast between his revival and the original even more jarring.

Gabe Meline, KQED: Why does it work? Accompanied by an on-stage bluegrass combo, the songs, obviously, are great. (A rousing "I Cain't Say No" sung by the Black trans actor Sis manages to out-camp the original, bringing the house down.) But the direction by Daniel Fish is what matters here: it leans unflinchingly into the original story's dark corners, even past the hokum of the main courting-ritual narrative between Curly and Laurey (Sean Grandillo and Sasha Hutchings).

Lily Janiak, Datebook: Then there are those voices. Sean Grandillo as cocksure cowman Curly has a tenor so tremulous it gives each song an inborn drama. As coveted bachelorette Laurey, Sasha Hutchings makes her numbers into bucking broncos, her belt their trick rider. Christopher Bannow as outcast hired hand Jud Fry has a voice that steals in like moonlight. The mononymous and showstopping Sis, as the eternally amorous Ado Annie, finds ways to keep milking her lyrics long after you think all the juice must have been wrung out of them.

Ahmanson Theatre - Los Angeles, CA

Tracey Paleo, BroadwayWorld: The actors are extremely capable. Performances felt deeply authentic and real. But the lead characters in this revival, whether purposefully directed or not, Laurey, Curly McLain (Sean Grandillo) and Judd Fry (Christopher Bannow), even Aunt Eller (Barbara Walsh) now feel internally more confused while appearing externally laissez-faire. Although, Ado Annie (Sis), her would-be lover, Will Parker (Hennessy Winkler), and rival Ali Hakim (Benj Mirman) do manage to add amusing comic relief, especially Annie in her signature song, "I Can't Say No".

Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: Sasha Hutchings, a Black actor who stars as Laurey and helps lead a multicultural ensemble, breaks up the monolithic whiteness of a musical that sings about the land without thinking too deeply about its complicated history. In her singing, as well as in her acting, Hutchings brings a plucky strength that doesn't exclude fear, confusion or terrified vulnerability.

ASU Gammage - Tempe, AZ

Herbert Paine, BroadwayWorld: First, this re-vamped, re-imagined, newly crafted production of the classic musical, currently playing at ASU Gammage, Tempe until Sunday, October 23, is not the Rodgers and Hammerstein of your parents. And while all song lyrics are left intact, here they're re-arranged to sound nothing like that hugely popular, original Broadway cast album your folks might have bought. It was the first show to ever record an original cast album.


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