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BWW Review: OKC Broadway twists and turns with reimagined OKLAHOMA! Revival

The re-imagined revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma runs through Jan 30th at the Civic Center.

BWW Review: OKC Broadway twists and turns with reimagined OKLAHOMA! Revival
Sasha Hutchings, Sean Grandillo and
the company of Rodgers and Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA!
Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MURPHYMADE.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! is a staple of the American musical theatre songbook. With an original Broadway run in 1943, the musical numbers and characters are a part of the very fabric of musical theatre itself.The show and subsequent movie have weaved their way into history, and Oklahoma, the place, takes its state song right from the show. Whether you've seen it or not, you know the music. It's as iconic as iconic can get, and there are those who believe that changing a show like Oklahoma! is simply something you don't do.

The original run didn't win any Tony awards, because the Tony's didn't exist yet. However, revival after revival has, and the 2019 version that is on tour now is the latest Best Revival Tony Award winner. The national tour of this version, fittingly, stops in Oklahoma City to perform at The Civic Center now through January 30th. This re-imagined, modernized, but still technically the same Oklahoma! as the original, created buzz all around the country. The limited engagement was extended to a full national tour. It took over two years for this show to make its debut in OKC, since the COVID pandemic pushed it back from its original scheduled run in 2020.

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.

The statement this production, directed by Broadway bad boy Daniel Fish, makes, is that this version of Oklahoma! is as non-traditional as you can get. This subtle yet glaring stance is ironic because it is, word-for-word, the most traditional and iconic musical there is. The staging is nontraditional; very few entrances and exits are made, and most, if not all, of the cast is on the stage for the majority of the show. The set design is nontraditional; there are no swinging screen doors, front porches or wheat fields, except for the static one in the background. Lighting is nontraditional, yes, lighting. Sound design is different, even jarring, scary, harsh and surprising. The characters are oddly modernized. The stiff formal language is met with characters in jeans and pearl snaps who are casually draped over picnic tables, sipping cans of beer and shucking corn. The set is simplistic and therefore disorienting, offering few context clues. It could be a territorial-era barn, or a modern-day barbecue restaurant. There could just as easily be peanut shells on the floor as buckshot.

Casting is also nontraditional, but welcome, and absolutely refreshing. The touring cast features a beautiful mix of cisgender and transgender actors. There are also several non-white actors in roles that are almost always cast as white characters. The result is nothing but a stunning tapestry of inclusion, and the real reflection of America. The cast alone is enough to make a patron proud to be an American, and especially proud to be an Oklahoman. This story from the past is cast to perfectly tell the story of our present and future.

Sasha Hutchings is magnetic as Laurey Williams. Her performance alone is worth the cost of the tickets, parking, gas to drive to the show, and however much you paid the babysitter. This Oklahoma City University alum is doing this city proud, and it's with an extra gleam in her eye and love in her heart that she performs this iconic role. Just try to take your eyes off her for a second that she's on stage. It's impossible. She's breathtaking and sexy, enigmatic and charming, and she pulls the rug out from everyone's feet with her emotional range.

Barbara Walsh is tough and smart as Aunt Eller. She doesn't mince words and tells it like it is. She's a true pioneer woman and a force to be reckoned with.

Sis is a showstopper and scene stealer as Ado Annie. She's vibrant and fun, and the audience absolutely adores her. She wins the crowd over with her charm and has everyone cheering for her. Sis is striking in her beauty and carries herself like a queen, adding an element of pride and self-respect that's so important for this role.

Hannah Solow is spastic and hilarious as Gertie. She leaves the audience more than a little uncomfortable with her sinister hysterics, and finally gets the last laugh... or does she?

Sean Grandillo is charming as Curly. He has a dark side, too, and Grandillo is chilling as his true nature comes out. Christopher Bannow is the perfect villain as Jud Fry. He's sympathetic to a point, then makes the audience hate and fear him. Jud Fry is the catalyst that makes everything come crashing down, and Bannow carries that weight with ease. Bannow never misses a step and is sure of himself as he goes down a shadowy path.

Benj Mirman serves as comedic relief for an intense show. As Ali Hakim, a peddler vying for the affections of Ado Annie, he's honest and consistent. He knows who he is and doesn't shy away from it. Hennessy Winkler is devoted and loving as Will Parker. Will wants nothing more than to marry Ado Annie, and the feud that occurs between him and Ali Hakim is euphoric and light. It brings some levity to break up the tension.

Ugo Chukwu is reasonable and steady as Cord Elam, serving as the voice of reason when times are dire. Patrick Clanton and Mitch Tebo complete the cast as Mike and Andrew Carnes, both giving solid performances.

A standout performance is given by Gabrielle Hamilton as the Lead Dancer. Her solo moment on stage in the infamous "Dream Ballet" scene is stunning. Hamilton's performance is intense and moving, and the audience is caught up in this dream she creates. This scene is not for the faint hearted, but it's the one that may stick with you the most.

The band performs on stage while the cast swirls around them, and their professionalism comes through. This isn't an easy or forgiving show to perform. Several scenes are carried out in pitch darkness, others in blinding bright lights. Swaths of greens and reds flood the stage, and backlighting plays heavily into the show. Cowboy boots drop like anvils out of nowhere. Food flies, shots are fired, theatrical smoke chokes out visibility. And all the while, the band plays on. Conductor Andy Collopy leads the orchestra beautifully. Dominic Lamorte serves as Associate Conductor and is on upright bass. Rick Snell is on mandolin and electric guitar. Liz Faure is on pedal steel, acoustic, and electric guitars. Justin Hiltner is on banjo. Libby Weitnauer is on violin, and Grace Hartman-Parce is on cello.

This new, re-imagined version of Oklahoma! is more performance art than musical, more statement than entertainment, and at times its mission to be edgy and shocking overshadows the plot. Patrons who are looking for an exact replica of the movie or their favorite past production need to shift that thinking and come willing to experience something new. It's wholly disappointing to see about fifty percent of the audience walk out before final bows. We owe our artists more than that, especially after the two years they've had. If a patron is mad after watching a show, they should be mad at the director, not the performers. The performers do their charges justice, and their efforts deserve our praise and attention.

Oklahoma! will almost assuredly make you mad. It will make your heart race. It'll also make you cry and laugh, stomp your feet and clap along, and gasp in shock. The one thing you most certainly won't feel is nothing. Oklahoma! succeeds in its mission for the simple fact that it makes you FEEL, and that is what art is supposed to do.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! runs until January 30th, 2022 at the Civic Center. Tickets are available at okcbroadway.com.


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