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BWW Review: The National Tour of OKLAHOMA! Opens at the Forrest Theatre

The Philadelphia premiere of the reimagined Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, runs through March 20 at the Forrest Theatre. 

Oklahoma!

The national tour of Daniel Fish's reimagined Oklahoma!, now playing at the Forrest Theatre, is Oklahoma! like you've never seen it. Darker and sultrier than you ever imagined Rodgers & Hammerstein's magnum opus could be, this production makes an almost 80-year-old musical feel not only modern, but dangerous. Drastic lighting, rustic set design, and stripped-down orchestrations do not simply create a gritty underbelly to this classic show, it has allowed one to arise straight from the source material, revealing that it has been there all along.

Perched on picnic tables with a wall of guns to one side, a backdrop of the Oklahoma countryside behind them, and fringed metallic streamers hanging above like the shiny promise of Curly McLain's (Sean Grandillo) surrey with the fringe on top, there is nowhere for these characters to hide. The stage is alternately filled with blinding light or plunged into complete darkness, throwing into sharp relief each character's desires and intentions. And desire is the blood that runs through the veins of this production.

Curly, young and swaggering, is sweet on Laurey Williams (Sasha Hutchings). Laurey, filled with both innocence and haughty confidence, does not want Curly to have the satisfaction of her giving into her feelings for him. To spite him and his advances, she agrees to go to the town's box social with farmhand Jud Fry (Christopher Bannow), a threatening figure and ominous presence, whose interest in Laurey has fallen into the territory of entitled obsession. On the edges of this triangle plays another story centered on desire, that of Ado Annie (Sis) and her relationships with Will Parker (Hennessy Winkler) and Ali Hakim (Benj Mirman). These three characters continually buck societal expectations when it comes to romance in a storyline that plays well against today's modern sensibilities. These relationships are observed and guided by the sharpened wisdom and keen eye of Aunt Eller (Barbara Walsh).

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. Christopher Bannow's Jud is not the loud and blustering villain of a golden-age musical. His Jud's masculinity is a quietly threatening one, resulting in something much scarier and more realistic, menacing intentions simmering right at the surface. Sis is a standout as Ado Annie, earning the loudest applause of the night with her singular rendition of 'I Cain't Say No'. Gabrielle Hamilton as the lead dancer in the Dream Ballet provides another standout moment, channeling Laurey's internal conflict stunningly into John Heginbotham's, raw, expressive choreography.

Exploring expressions of masculinity and femininity, societal rules and social mores, this Oklahoma! takes material that's been around for almost a hundred years and brings it squarely into the 21st century.


The Kimmel Cultural Campus, in partnership with The Shubert Organization, presents the Philadelphia premiere of the reimagined Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, running through March 20 at the Forrest Theatre.


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