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Review: OKLAHOMA! at Golden Gate Theatre

Review: OKLAHOMA! at Golden Gate Theatre

Tony-winning revival of Oklahoma! runs through September 11.

Oklahoma!

Music by Richard Rodgers

Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Based on the story Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs

Directed by Daniel Fish

Golden Gate Theatre

Oklahoma! stands high among the canon of musical theatre. The first collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, it won them a special Pulitzer, a smash 5-year run on Broadway, and redefined the concept of the 'book musical'. The Oscar winning 1955 film adaptation further cemented the play's popularity and it's been in stage productions ever since. As a young gay kid, cowboys dancing to Agnes DeMille's extraordinary choreography set my heart aflutter. This production is not my grandmother's version, that rose-colored picture of an America frontier long past. I guess Oklahoma! was fair game for a 21st century makeover and some of Director Daniel Fish's choices are adventurous and modern, but I was left underwhelmed and bored.

Perhaps it was the choice of using the exact text that hindered this production from truly evolving or the slow pacing the made it seem way, longer than its actual running time. Curious lighting queues, onstage live camera feeds projected onto a large overhead screen, and the strange, infrequent use of microphones added to my confusion. Choreography is all but jettisoned here except for a modern dance sequence moved to the opening of Act II that forsook the incredible onstage band for a loud rock backing. Some uneven vocals may have been overlooked for casting decisions or maybe not. The casual staging where the entire cast sits around tables, seemed like a table reading.

Review: OKLAHOMA! at Golden Gate Theatre
Will Parker (Hennessy Winkler) and ado Annie (Sis)

This production does highlight the darkness of Curly's character and of the townsfolk and for that I'm grateful. We're conditioned to see the image of the American cowboy in idyllic, heroic terms and on the face of it, and as Curly himself tells Aunt Eller, he's the best thing since sliced bread. But I think he's the real villain here - torturing his rival Jud, advocating his suicide, emasculating him in public and eventually killing him. Still, he's Laurey's and the town's champion - a dark perspective on the us against them dynamic.

Daniel Kluger's tweaking of Rodgers and Hammerstein's score works to modernize the feel while keeping the intent, but no song soared in its deliveries. There are some fine performances throughout and the humor of the play has been highlighted with an extra spoonsful of sexuality. The romantic side story of Ado Annie (Sis), Ali Hakim (Benj Mirman) and Will Parker (Hennessy Winkler) provide the light touches to balance out the dark.

Review: OKLAHOMA! at Golden Gate Theatre
Jud (Christopher Bannow) and Curly (Sean Grandillo)

Sean Grandillo plays the guitar twanging Curly McLain and he lends the character a sinister touch of evil as the play progresses. Sasha Hutchings shines as Laurey Williams, a simple woman caught in an untenable position. The women presented here are early 20th century archetypes; either sluts or weak willed subservients. Only the bossy and brash Aunt Eller (Barbara Walsh) has a set of nads. This is a male-dominated time and women mere property to be bought and bedded. Christopher Bannow is wonderful as the misunderstood outsider Jud.

Earlier productions have Curly killing Jud ( in self-defense or Jud falling on his own knife and dying. Presented here, Curly shoots a defenseless Jud at his wedding party, drenching the happy couple in blood. Of course, the kangaroo court of lovable townsfolk quickly acquits Curly cuz gosh, you can't send a man to jail on his wedding night. Laurey is horrified knowing her marriage begins on a tragic note. Bizarrely, they all sing the finale of Oklahoma! where life is grand.

Oklahoma! runs through September 11, 2022. Prices range from $56 to $256 and are available to purchase at broadwaysf.com.

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Regional Awards


From This Author - Steve Murray

Steve Murray is a writer for Cabaret Scenes magazine, contributor to ForAllEvents and now BroadwayWorld. He started writing rock reviews for his college newspaper in the 1970’s, produced a va... (read more about this author)


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