Often credited as the first contemporary book musical, Oklahoma! is a classic. Revived numerous times since its Broadway bow in 1943, the Rodgers & Hammerstein work is typically remounted in a style similar to its original incarnation—until now.
The show has been stripped down to a minimalist production; its 28-piece orchestra has become a seven-piece bluegrass band, and a down-home barn setting replaces lush sets and costumes, all in service of focusing on the story at the heart of this tenant of American culture. Audiences are welcomed to a barbecue—and, yes, there will still be chili served.
The story follows two love triangles. Laurey, played by Rebecca Naomi Jones (American Idiot), and farmhand Curly, played by Damon Daunno (The Lucky Ones), play coy with each other. Meanwhile, farmhand Jud Fry, played by Patrick Vaill, also loves Laurey—though she finds his advances more creepy than kind. Then there’s Ado Annie, caught between cowman Will and traveling salesman Ali Hakim.
Under Daniel Fish’s direction, this Oklahoma! exposes the darker themes that have always roiled beneath the surface of this bright golden musical. An emphasis on female empowerment—in Laurey and Aunt Eller’s sole ownership of their farm and in Ado Annie’s ownership of her sexuality—punctuates the production. Moral ambiguities bubble up.
But lovers of Oklahoma! needn’t fear. If anything, this version cuts closer to the truth of Hammerstein’s libretto and Rodgers’ music. “Our production gets to the underbelly of what the story actually is,” says cast member Mallory Portnoy. “It sort of feels like a play with music.”
To hear more from the company of Broadway’s Oklahoma!, which begins performances March 19 at the Circle in the Square Theatre, watch the full video above.