By Sandi Durell
Although Theater Pizzazz has a review posted written by JK Clarke on the initial run at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse (which I did not see) prior to this Broadway run, what with all the buzzing around town about the newly reimagined Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, I was more than interested in seeing director Daniel Fish’ take on this great historical 1943 musical.
Set on minimalist theater-in-the round plywood board flooring, long tables lined with red crock pots and wooden fold up chairs, the walls covered with guns (by set designer Laura Jellinek), at Circle in the Square Theater, the cast surely would have lots of space to move about because chicks and ducks and geese gotta scurry . . . The opening “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” (with bluegrass string band on stage) and cowboy Curly (strong voiced sexy Damon Daunno) struttin’ and strummin’ his guitar while trying to impress Laurey, along with a not too enthusiastic looking cast lounging at the tables, seemed to generate a less than happy edge of life’s expectations, poignantly noted by a brash and comedic Aunt Eller (the always remarkable Mary Testa) and doubly so by a sullen, unhappy, scared Laurey (lovely voiced Rebecca Naomi Jones) who is being pursued by farmhand Jud Fry (a sad, suspicious, scary Patrick Vaill). Think stalker. She is both attracted to and repelled by him.
This is the epitome of non-traditional reimagining of a grand old musical when folks just didn’t have a reason to think about violence, guns, political correctness. It gets to the underlying heart of thinking, the meanings and changes that have taken hold in society. It just was all sugar-coated way back when and, from my standpoint, happily so. This extreme version is broken apart into the darkest basics as we view the contemporary and politically correct wanderings of Daniel Fish’ mind.
“Many a New Day” finds Laurey and her female cohorts shucking corn, breaking and throwing them angrily into a pot – getting rid of the old restraints; Ado Annie played by powerhouse belter, a mesmerizing Ali Stroker (in a wheelchair since childhood) is a standout – “I Can’t Say No” – while pursuing and being pursued by the Persian peddler, Ali Hakim (Will Brill) as well as the not too bright bulb fine looker in tight jeans Will Parker (James Davis). Poor girl just can’t keep herself in tow when these dudes come around.
Fish uses live video technique with small spotlight (lighting design Scott Zielinski) to highlight menacing conversation between Curly as he taunts Jud face to face in the dark . . . projected on a screen (projections Joshua Thorson) and it’s downright eerie.
Laurey’s Dream sequence, choreographed by John Heginbotham, is frenetic, long and scary as African-American dancer Gabrielle Hamilton flings herself across the stage wearing a T-shirt inscribed “Dream Baby Dream.”
The cast speaks and sings with a twang, the intention of their sometimes slowed down words and lyrics clearly designed to emphasize new meaning.
Shout outs to Mallory Portnoy as an alluring Gertie Cummings, and the remainder of the cast Anthony Cason as Cord Elam, Mitch Tebo as Andrew Carnes and Will Mann as Mike.
The production is sexy, raw, dark and bloody towards the end, and unmistakably highlights the tragedy of our times. Don’t expect sunny smiles or anything that resembles optimism in this depressing Oklahoma.
I applaud the creative, far reaching thinking but wish it was 1943 or 1955 when the movie was released with Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Rod Steiger, Charlotte Greenwood, Gloria Grahame . . . and love was in the air.
Little Fang Photos
Oklahoma – Circle in the Square, 1633 Broadway (bet. 50 & 51 Streets), run time 2 hrs 45 min. (one intermission) www.oklahomabroadway.com
Thru September 1, 2019