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Interview: Sasha Hutchings of OKLAHOMA! at Hennepin Theatre Trust

Tony-winning Revival Begins its National Tour in Minneapolis, First Equity OKLAHOMA! Tour in 40 Years

Interview: Sasha Hutchings of OKLAHOMA! at Hennepin Theatre Trust 2021 marks the first time a first-class Equity production of OKLAHOMA! has toured North America in more than 40 years, and it begins in Minneapolis at the Orpheum Theatre tonight (Nov. 9, 2021). This production helmed by Daniel Fish is reimagined for the 21st century, and won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical in its Broadway run. Unless you made it to NYC during that run, your experience with this show likely is via a community, regional or perhaps a high school production. MSP theatre goers - get thee to the stage and see this new show this week (fully vaccinated and masked, of course).

Lead character Laurey is played by actor Sasha Hutchings (bio below), who is an OBC member of a certain still-hot musical, thanks to unlimited streaming access on Disney+ during the pandemic and beyond. One look at Hutchings' photo here and you'll recognize that fabulous head of hair from her ensemble part in HAMILTON. (Some of us even have books, calendars and other items with her image, right, Ham Fans?!) But this Georgia native singer/actor/dancer has appeared in five other Broadway productions and several film and TV productions.

Hutchings took time to share some insight into the production, her time with HAMILTON and her search for a travel-ready houseplant in this edition of 6 Questions:

Sasha, thanks for the interview as you open this national tour of the revival of OKLAHOMA! In Minneapolis. Since it's been 40 years since this show has been seen in a Broadway/national tour and many theatregoers in Minneapolis may not have made it to NYC to see the Circle in the Square production, can you tell us a little about how Daniel Fish's production updates this classic musical for this age?

There are several elements audiences encounter at the top of the show, like our costume design by Terese Wadden and orchestrations by Daniel Kluger that look and sound very different from past productions of OKLAHOMA! . Think irresistible denim, cowboy boots, and the best seven piece folk band you'd want to hear play on an easy Friday night. That said, the script, score and lyrics are all true to the original production. Daniel Fish's direction of OKLAHOMA! is new, fresh and yet incredibly familiar at the same time.

How do you bring it into a more modern place?

The show is made modern by honestly exploring the wants and desires of these classic characters as they might exist today, right now, in 2021.

What is your best moment as Laurey in this show and what is your favorite aspect of this production?

One of my favorite moments as Laurey is singing "Out of My Dreams" at the end of Act 1. It is an incredibly exposed and vulnerable moment for Laurey the character, as well as for me, Sasha the actress. A lot of OKLAHOMA! is about human desire, and the costs and consequences of the "pursuit of happiness." The end of the act is quite a turning point for Laurey in her own pursuit, and I try to be as bare and brave as I can be in that moment.

In this production I love that the entire cast is on stage for most of the show. We get to watch each other's performances, interact between scenes, and create this ever-present community on stage each night.

The NYC revival features a "stripped bare" staging and apparently a lot of guns and crockpots. Can you describe how these things will play out in a larger house, and proscenium theatre staging, on the tour, and tell us a little about the role of guns in the show and perhaps how that is for you as a cast in these times, especially in light of the accidental shooting on the set of the film "Rust" recently?

At its core, OKLAHOMA! has always been a story about a community coming together, and the design of this production-whether in the round on Broadway or in a proscenium on tour-uses scenic and lighting design to evoke a sense of togetherness. Auditorium lights are left on for certain parts of the show, creating a shared experience among audiences and actors. There are also moments of total darkness, where all lights in the theatre are turned off, allowing audiences to focus intensely on dialogue on stage. Crockpots and bare wooden picnic tables are used on stage to evoke the feeling of being in your everyday, rural town social.

Perhaps most surprising to audiences will be the use of guns in the show-as scenic elements and props. Gun racks visible on the walls of the set hold 114 guns, an intentionally gratuitous display meant as a direct statement from the creative team in response to our country's growing gun violence epidemic. Director Daniel Fish was deliberate and specific about the number of guns presented on stage, and look and sound of each. Guns are fired four times during the show, and the startling sound of the gunshot is amplified each time.

The guns used on stage are prop guns, meaning they incapable of firing a live round, and no live ammunition is ever kept on site or on stage. The entire touring company has been trained in gun safety with experts, not only the performers who use them. OKLAHOMA! is proud to the first gun-neutral show on Broadway and National Tour. For every visible gun in OKLAHOMA!, both on stage and around the theatre, OKLAHOMA! will make a minimum donation of $100 per gun on behalf of the show to Gun Neutral's 501(c)3 nonprofit, a non-partisan initiative open to all storytellers, producers and financiers, calling for greater social responsibility to offset and account for gun violence in entertainment.

a??Many fans of the original Broadway production of HAMILTON will recognize you from streaming the filmed version over and over during the past year. Can you share a little about what it was like for you to be a part of that show, to have the film available for all to watch all the time now on Disney+ and if you have any anecdotes about being a part of that production that fans don't know about you?

Hamilton is and continues to be one of the best gifts and achievements of my life. I adored working with that group of artists and they are lifelong friends. The Disney+ film gave us a chance to reconnect in the midst of a global pandemic and social unrest. Around the release of the movie, we as a cast raised money for organizations supporting Black lives, social justice, and voting initiatives.

My anecdote about being a part of Hamilton is to "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed people can change the world." -- which is also a quote from "The West Wing" of which Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton alum Nik Walker and I are incredibly committed fans.

Revisiting that 2020 performance of Hamilton on film during a global pandemic and amidst a racial justice reckoning was like a time capsule experience. The summer of 2016 when we filmed the show was also one of police violence against Black lives and Black Lives Matter protests. For me, as with this revival of OKLAHOMA!, revisiting work four years later or 40 years later allows us to ask new questions about how we have changed, how we haven't, and how we could be better tomorrow.

I join you in your admiration of "The West Wing," and I so agree about revisiting works. Now for some more recent work, I was apparently in a pandemic box and just discovered the Chaos Twins with you and Nik Walker -- and need to dig into that now. Are you two still doing it as you begin working on stage again?

Well first and foremost Nik and I are forever and always Chaos Twins in our daily friendship. We have known each other for years and our conversations always oscillate between the meaning of life and which midtown pizzeria sells the best slice. Our friendship was an anchor for me during the real and difficult chaos of the pandemic. We had an absolute blast extending our friendship to our Chaos Twins audiences on BroadwayWorld week to week. As theatre returns and I am embarking on this tour, Nik is reopening and starring in AIN'T TOO PROUD on Broadway. We definitely plan to continue Chaos Twins as we settle into our new schedules.

6 quick hits

  • Favorite TV show: "The West Wing" and "Run the World" on Starz! The series is about four black women living and loving Harlem. I play Hope, everyone's favorite 5th wheel.
  • How many houseplants DO you have? The number fluctuates between 10-25...depending on how good my propagation game is in the spring/summer. I have had to pare the inventory down a bit as I head out on the road and won't be able to tend to my plant babies as regularly. However, I'm currently in the market for a plant baby that can travel in my carry-on. Anyone?
  • Future Broadway revival you'd love to lead? SWEET CHARITY 10000%
  • Best season: The one you are in! The pandemic definitely taught me to appreciate and stay in the present. There is a time to every purpose, even in pain.
  • Cause or charity you care about: Theatre education. There is something revolutionary about teaching young people how to imagine. I work with The Arthur Miller Foundation and Epic Theatre Ensemble in NYC and Otis Redding Foundation in my hometown of Macon, GA!
  • Artist you most admire: It ebbs and flows depending on where I am as an artist. I just performed the role of Sephronia in NINA SIMONE: FOUR WOMEN at Berkshire Theatre Group and I have been meditating in Nina's music and words. I believe her work and her journey as an artist and activist hold much wisdom for artists, activists and artivists today.

Bio:

Sasha Hutchings (Laurey): She/her.

Broadway: Oklahoma!, Hamilton OBC, My Fair Lady, Rocky, Motown. TV/Film: Hamilton (Disney+) , "Run The World", "Fosse/Verdon", "The Bold Type", "Jessica Jones", "Master of None". Pink Cornrows, Culture Associate. Theatre Education Teaching Artist. BPA: Oklahoma City University. @sashahutchings

More:

This acclaimed production of OKLAHOMA! tells a story of a community banding together
against an outsider, and the frontier life that shaped America. Upending the sunny romance of a farmer and a cowpoke, this OKLAHOMA! allows the classic musical - and our country - to be seen in a whole new light. OKLAHOMA! features music by Richard Rodgers and a book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, basedon the play "Green Grow the Lilacs" by Lynn Riggs, with original dances by Agnes De Mille. OKLAHOMA! is the OG book musical; it premiered during World War II, won a Pulitzer Prize, spawned a Hollywood film and ran on Broadway for nearly six years.

The Minnesota premiere of this revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! at the historic Orpheum Theatre (910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis) runs Tuesday, Nov. 9 to Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. Tickets for OKLAHOMA! are on sale at the State Theatre Box Office (805
Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis), by calling (800) 982-2787 or by HennepinTheatreTrust.org. For information and reservations for groups of 10 or more, visit minneapolis.broadway.com/groups.

Twitter: @OklahomaBway
Facebook: Rodgers & Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA!
Instagram: @oklahomabway

Catch Sasha and Nik on Chaos Twins on BroadwayWorld. And, watch Sasha sing "I Cain't Say No."

Photo: Sasha Hutchings, courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.

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From This Author - Kristen Hirsch Montag

Kristen Hirsch Montag is a senior public relations and communications manager for Meet Minneapolis, Convention and Visitors Association, by day and self-professed theatre geek by night. A busy care... (read more about this author)


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