What an Oklahoma!

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What an Oklahoma!
House lights are full up in Oklahoma!
Credit: Little Fang

Okay, so this Oklahoma! is quite a departure from anything you have ever known or seen about the classic 1943 musical. Directed by Daniel Fish, it certainly is a conduit for conversation. Consider this a musical deconstructed, with deeper meanings brought to life through very intense, underlined moments.

This re-fashioned production plays at Circle in the Square-a theatre in the round, where you can pretty much see all of the audience members anyway. But in this production, it’s full house lights up for most of the show…except for the moments when the lights are completely shut off and it’s pitch dark… Then, we see the characters with flashlights facing each other speaking menacingly and intimately, OR we hear just their voices and see nothing. All done for tremendous dramatic intent. The thing I don’t like about theatre in the round is that I spend too much time looking at the audience and being distracted. With full lights up, I was beside myself.

The songs are kind of nicely done, understated for sure, especially the way “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” is sung, which I liked.

What an Oklahoma!
Rebecca Naomi Jones as Laurey and Damon Daunno as Curly in Oklahoma!
Credit: Little Fang  

Main characters Laurey (Rebecca Naomi Jones) and Curly (Damon Daunno) are also understated and somewhat glum. Weirdo Jud (Patrick Vaill) just comes across as super creepy. In a brilliant stroke of costume design, Jud appears in the last scene in a suit with pants too short for him, as the wedding for Laurey and Curly is about to unfold.

The breath of fresh air in this Oklahoma! is the marvelous Ali Stroker who plays funny and feisty Ado Annie. Never mind that she is in a wheelchair. That is irrelevant. She is simply terrific. Of course, the always superb Mary Testa as Aunt Eller, offers lots of comic relief.

I was pretty charmed by the intermission offerings of really excellent chili and cornbread  (provided by Metro Catering and Events.) This was a highlight of the show.

But the ending left me with a really bad taste in my mouth. I simply did not understand the reason for the surprising and unusual (perhaps bizarre is a better word) conclusion. Although, I have to admit, the bloody finale is actually pretty fascinating. I was taken by the technical logistics, and the decision for poor Laurey to sing the title song, completely traumatized.

This is a musical that surely has a point of view. It is important to note that a special collaborative partner, Gun Neutral, an organization working with entertainment companies to help solve gun violence in America, is an integral part of the production. The producers explain that for every visible gun seen on stage in Oklahoma!, the production donates to Gun Neutral for the benefit of organizations working to destroy illegal firearms that should be out of circulation. Gun Neutral also uses funds to make grants to organizations that provide arts and STEM programming to youth in underserved areas.

I completely applaud new interpretations and versions of classic pieces of theatre. I’m just not sure if this musical works with the interpretation.

Some say this is a brilliant re-invention of a classic musical. I say, hmm…not sure if some of the choices that were made really made sense. Listen, you can’t argue with the music of Oklahoma!, but you can argue with this re-imagined version. Was it the proper vehicle for all the symbolism? You decide. But, I truly love the conversation this production initiated. This is what is exciting about theatre today. It allows for a deeper dialogue. https://oklahomabroadway.com


For more theatre news, views, and interviews, listen to Valerie on her radio program and podcast “Bagels and Broadway with Valerie Smaldone” Saturday mornings 9-10 on AM970 (WNYM-AM), online at www.am970theanswer.com, available on Alexa and podcast “The only theatre and food focused show in New York”

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