5 things you should know before going to see the modern day revival of Oklahoma! On Broadway.
1) It’s BOLD. Expect the unexpected. A true shock to the traditional musical theatre “classic” — everything from acoustic stripped down covers of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s tunes that you’ve never heard without a full orchestra to the cast cracking rounds of Bud Lights in the middle of a scene to really immerse you into small town America. Daniel Fish’s revisionist direction digs deep and changes the perception of the piece, while shining light on the multitude of meanings behind the golden age, 1943 musical that most viewers likely haven’t thought of before.
2) Ali Stroker. That’s it. Stroker delivers a fun and free-spirited performance as Ado Annie that captivates the entire theatre, regardless of one’s seat in the house. She really plays to the naivete of youth and daring experimentation. The on-stage chemistry between her and James Davis (Will Parker) brightens the production with heartfelt romantic desire and a true organic comedic connection. We “cain’t say no” to her (much deserved) Tony Award winning performance.
3) Lighting is a character in and of itself. Lighting plays a vital role in all shows, as it is a huge part of portraying the artistic vision of the creative team. However, in this revival, lighting (lighting design by Scott Zielinksi) is its own character and enhances the intensity of the show from scene to scene. Upon entering the theatre, the audience is greeted with house lights that feels as if we’re spectators in a barn or community center in the middle of the Midwest. Throughout the course of the show, lighting (or lack thereof) offers another dimension of theatrical storytelling and acts almost as a motif for the moments of darkness in comparison to the bursts of joy and levity.
4) This is not your mama’s Oklahoma! And you shouldn’t expect it to be. It’s uniquely Off-Broadway (this Broadway run comes immediately after a very successful Off-Broadway run at St. Anne’s Warehouse last year) in a Broadway space and that daring energy comes across through the nearly 3 hour production. It’s filled with deep cutting symbolism from the second you enter the theatre. Even the fact that the show is staged in the round is an allegory for equality and telling a story from various perspectives. With any modern production, people will pick and choose what they liked and what they didn’t. Some people love the fact that “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top” is a slower and more sentimental scene than the grand show-starter that’s it’s usually known to be. Some people think chili and cornbread at intermission is overkill. Others view it as immersive theatre and a nice touch. Personally, the only piece of this production that felt disconnected was the iconic dream ballet sequence — which was more of an interpretive dance number that seemed as if it was trying to make a political point which didn’t fit in this particular world. Beautiful as it was, it didn’t transport the audience back into the journey at the top of Act II.
5) It’s more about today’s world than you think. It’s easy for people to see a revival from the 1940’s come to Broadway and think “oh, that’s dated. I won’t be able to relate to that show anymore.” That could not be further from the truth with this revival of Oklahoma! which really focuses on key issues that are the forefront of today society, such as mental health, sexual assault, and gun violence. Take Jud Fry for example — deeply misunderstood, frighteningly lonely, emotionally frustrated are all ways to describe the archetype of Jud. A type of individual that we (unfortunately) see a bit too much of in today’s news cycle because of actions caused by someone who’s been pushed to their limit. Fry is not a likeable character by any means, but through Patrick Vaill’s bone-chilling, raw, and brilliant portrayal the audience experiences a different and almost relatable side to Fry, who in many ways can be seen as a “villain” in this show. That could also be because he’s always carrying a gun and isn’t afraid to shoot it to make a point (well, that’s pretty much every male character in this show — aha! Another modern day theme!) Another key point in this show is anyone can have (metaphorical) blood on their hands regardless of how nice or heroic they may be. At its core, it all stems back to leading with empathy, compassion and putting mental health at the forefront of conversation, regardless of whether you live in the liberal epicenter of New York City or small town, Oklahoma — people are people and even a bit of kindness can change lives.
Oklahoma! is currently running on Broadway through January 19th, 2020. More information about the and tickets can be found at https://oklahomabroadway.com/