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BWW Interview: Sasha Hutchings of OKLAHOMA! NATIONAL TOUR at Broadway In Chicago

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Hutchings takes on the role of Laurey in the national tour of Daniel Fish's Broadway revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic

BWW Interview: Sasha Hutchings of OKLAHOMA! NATIONAL TOUR at Broadway In Chicago

The national tour of director Daniel Fish's Tony Award-winning revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! arrives in Chicago next week. Ahead of the show's Chicago engagement, Sasha Hutchings reflected on her role as leading lady Laurey, her journey with the show, and how the show's themes and this new production will resonate with modern audiences.

OKLAHOMA! is a nearly 80-year-old musical. It was the first musical Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote together, and it's largely considered the first piece of American musical theater as we know it now. Can you talk to me about how this production speaks to contemporary audiences?

Yes, it's definitely steeped in rich American musical theater history. The way in which it speaks to today's audiences has a lot to do with the people onstage and the way that we've chosen to approach this work, which is primarily saying these words that were written almost 80 years ago and letting them live in the context of today without trying to bring the audience into 1943 or any other time and place. We only exist in the now, and what does it mean for people who look like the people you pass in the street to be in this community and say these words to each other and deal with these dynamics of community and love and interest in establishing your home and fighting for the future that you want.

It's not as complex as it might sound to bring a musical like OKLAHOMA! into today because I think the reason it is considered such a piece of American history is because of the way it represented those ambitions and the values of our country, for better or for worse.

I know you performed in the Broadway run of this revival, first as a standby for both Laurey and Ado Annie and then as a replacement for Laurey. Can you tell me more about your journey with the production?

Yes, I joined the Broadway company as a standby for Ado Annie and Laurey. I also understudied the dream ballet. I also know the characters and the structure of it. I took over for Ali Stroker for a bit for matinees as Ado Annie and later started going on a lot for Laurey. What struck me the most was being two different women at the same time, dealing with similar questions and having them answer them in different ways. Being able to be in that world and step into both of their lives was informative about the show on the whole. I was really struck by the production.

BWW Interview: Sasha Hutchings of OKLAHOMA! NATIONAL TOUR at Broadway In Chicago
Sasha Hutchings as Laurey

I studied the show in school as well. I started out as a dancer and the dream ballet was one of the first ballets to incorporate storytelling and moving the plot forward and being a visceral example of what the characters are dealing with. Being able to come to it and turn it on its head and dissect this musical and still have dance be a huge part of the story was striking and exciting for me.

Can you tell me more about your process of finding your way into the musical numbers? For example, "People Will Say We're In Love" is the first conditional love song - a kind of number that is in many musicals that came after it. How do you honor that but also find your way into the specific emotions that a song like that requires to perform?

"People Will Say..." is one of my favorites to sing, and it is such a classic love song. It strikes me with a lot of the text and the songs that sometimes when we speak to each other we say things, and this is true of us today, we say things but we don't say exactly what we mean. We might talk around something. [For example, think of the] greeting, "Hi, how are we doing?" "I'm fine. How are you?" That's not really filled with meaning. It's an exchange of "I'm here. You're here. I see you. You see me. We're about to have an interaction." There's a lot of interactions like that in the show.

In "People Will Say..." you've got Laurey and Curly who'd rather play games and flirt and feel each other out. The lyrics are all about "Don't do this, don't do this." It's this backwards way of flirtation. When we were playing with the song, [director] Daniel Fish would say, "It's not about the words. It's about the song. You like singing together. Your voices are mixing. You all are playing with each other."

That's the fun part of these classic songs. Sometimes, you're not listening to the words. You're

BWW Interview: Sasha Hutchings of OKLAHOMA! NATIONAL TOUR at Broadway In Chicago
Hutchings as Laurey and Sean Grandillo as Curly

listening to the sound. That was true in 1943, and that's true now. I have songs I like that have everything to do with the melody and the music that speaks to the romance that's happening. Sometimes when you sing about it and you make sounds about it you can communicate more emotion than with just words.

In the context of musical theater history, I think many reflect upon OKLAHOMA! as a cheerful and quaint show. But the show also has many darker moments and themes. How does this production balance the light and the dark elements of the material?

I think it digs into all of it equally without shame and without judgment. OKLAHOMA! is seen as Americana, and I think we like to look at our past and our history through rose-colored lenses, and we don't like to look at the darker parts of ourselves and know that has always been a part of it. This show does not shy away from things that are truly said and pays attention to the words and what the characters are saying to each other for better or for worse. Not shying away from these things and not judging them but letting them live. It's letting people exist as complex as they are.

I think it's been a long year. It's been a long two years. It's been a long pandemic. I think we are hopefully in 2022 mature enough and complex enough to see ourselves and be kind. That darkness can be uncomfortable to look at, that ambition those characters have to create a society and a nation that they want. Our history is rooted in a lot of violence...when we're looking to create better futures and be better to ourselves and each other, we have to be honest about the ways we aren't kind to each other. In the show, it's definitely there. The way that people go about getting what they want isn't always kind. It can be manipulative. Being honest in that, while it can be uncomfortable, it can be freeing to know that you're not alone in those complex feelings. The proof is that these things were written eighty years ago and a hundred years ago and a thousand years ago they contain all these things. To be able to look at it honestly is refreshing. It's uncomfortable, but if you're willing to be uncomfortable you can get value from it.

Life continues to be uncertain. Down to if we can perform right now because of COVID. Life is unpredictable and people have experienced a lot of stress and loss on top of normal life. To be able to come and sit with this and deal with darker emotions, I think there's not a better time.

What do you think audiences will find most surprising or interesting about this staging, and what do you hope audiences take away from it?

Things that are interesting and striking would be everyone being on stage at the same time with the lights on. I don't think people are used to experiencing theater that way. We are used to entrances and exits. Also very full orchestrations are what people expect from OKLAHOMA! We have a seven member band. We have eleven people on stage mostly with each other at all times, witnessing everything altogether at the same time, wearing clothes you might see today. The fashions and things are recognizable.

Because we have seven pieces in the band, I do think one of my favorite elements of the show is the band because the orchestra has been distilled in a way to these specific sounds and pieces and notes and melodies and harmonies that you can pull out with your ear. You can clearly hear a banjo. You can clearly hear the melody of the cello. This show is so much about what you hear. There are moments of complete darkness in the show because it's supposed to be about listening. Again, if you can open up to that and embrace it and immerse yourself in this experience you start to hear the music, the lyrics, and the melody anew, and the words anew in a way you've never understood or heard this musical before.

It's fascinating because nothing has been altered or changed at all. It's like finding a new sweater in your closet you forgot you had that was fashionable ten years ago and now it's back in style...it's a fun experience to have. I hope that audiences take that away. Take away that ability to look at something in your life that you thought you understood everything about and look at it anew. It could be an album. It could be a significant other or a loved one that you think you know everything about, but if you had one meal and you just committed to sit and listen you would learn things about them you never had thought of before.

See Sasha Hutchings take on the role of Laurey during the Broadway In Chicago engagement of OKLAHOMA!, January 11 - January 23 at the CIBC Theatre. Visit BroadwayInChicago.com for tickets and more information.

Interview by Rachel Weinberg

Headshot courtesy of Broadway In Chicago

Production Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman


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