NOT THE OKLAHOMA! OUR GRANDPARENTS SAW, DANIEL FISH BRINGS A DARKER EDGE TO A BROADWAY CLASSIC
THIS OKLAHOMA! IS A MASTERPIECE ‘OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING” IS THE FRONTIER THAT SHAPED AMERICA, AND THAT INCLUDED THE DARK THEMES OF PRIVILEGE, STALKING AND MENTAL HEALTH.
Review by Vince Mediaa
“People Will Say We’re in Love” a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite takes on a deeper subtext in this is OKLAHOMA! Reimagined for the 21st century. This Tony Award Winner for Best Revival is now on stage at the Golden Gate Theatre through September 11th. Directed by daring Daniel Fish, he brings that reborn America to stage using the same book and score, but a darker, edgier and haunting feel that has always been part of this musical.
This reimagining of a 79 year old musical (considered to be the first musical on Broadway that told its story through the lyrics and songs). This staging is missing the corn stalk plains of the Midwest. Missing is the soaring American patriotism, no blonde soprano falling for a buffed white man. Instead, this is a deep rich retelling that surpasses the hand clapping original.
Since my readers probably have seen or been in the production more times than I have reviewed it over the years, I won’t spend much time discussing the story. Fish’s “Oklahoma!” shed's a new light, asking us to look inside all the issues of the story. In this revival it is a tale about vulnerability, consent, gun violence, sexism, sexual assault, ethical quandaries, and there are more guns on stage than actors.
The Golden Gate stage has been transformed by set designer Laura Jellinek into a barn square dance hall of plywood, colorful streamers, and tables with crock pots of chili and corn stalks. Onstage is the band, made up of folky strings, playing new orchestrations by Daniel Kluger that have wonderfully changed the sound of the music to a hoedown. All the cast is on stage throughout most of the first act sitting at tables - almost like a table read.
It's a fluid effect scene to scene including the important Jud Fry scene performed entirely in the dark. Costume designer Terese Wadden has the cast in modern styles that has the midwestern feel including cowboy hats. shiny boots, leather chaps, shirts with fringe, and Ado Annie in torn denim and a color T shirt that shows off beautiful curves.
This Oklahoma! has more skin and sex bouncing out of it than “Kinky Boots” and “Moulin Rouge!” This musical has always been a simple love story of a girl picking a date to a dance and her choosing between two cowboys. The toxic tension of sexual play boils more than the stalks of corn on stage.
The compelling Sasha Hutchings plays Laurey, and belts out “People Will Say We Are in Love '' alongside Sean Grandillo. They both serve up something more complex and psychological, not the Barbie and Ken dolls we are used to seeing. Grandillo plays guitar, with the perfect swagg, and a smooth groomer as flits with Laurey. The darker farmhand Jud, played by the solid Bannow who is perfect at making Laurey and the opening night audience very uncomfortable.
The show stopping Sis plays Ado Annie, and takes over the show every moment she is on stage. With a mic in hand she blows the top off the Golden Gate as she sings the classic “I Cain’t Say No”. Sis towers over her suiter Will Parker played by the charming clueless and loveable Hennessy Winkler, yet Fish still keeps the original script as Will says “My sweet 110 pound girl”. Winkler presents the classic “Kansas City” without the wrangling ropes you remember, but the live band on stage gives the number its constant charm.
Aunt Eller - the original Aunt of Broadway, in 1943 at the St James Theatre Ms Eller controlled her boys and the women on her Ranch. In 2022 Eller is still at her helm (but not churning the butter) played by the sassy Broadway vet Barbara Walsh. She is in control of everyone and everything on the Golden Gate stage full of confidence, Walsh sits at the main table calling all the shots and swings with Ugo Chukwu.
Fish also incorporates a modern design, by Laura Jellinek and unexpected live video feeds by Joshua Thorson pull a chilling effect with Jud. This new version of the classic dance sequence moved from the end of Act 1 to the top of Act II by choreographer John Heginbotham features a single POC dancer in a white t-shirt that reads “DREAM BABY DREAM.” A nightmare dream ballet is a modern dance solo piece set to a wild electric guitar, filled with stage fog, and live streamed on the back wall of the pinewood set. This is a movement dream of Laurey’s sexual conflict. Beautifully performed by Jordan Wynn.
Director Daniel Fish has fiercely changed most of the look and feel, but has been faithful to the text. The same songs we all love, some break the sound barriers with hand mics. “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” played on an acoustic guitar is perfect. “Surrey with the Fringe on the Top” as a sex song is sizzling. “Many a New Day” staged while corn shucking is a nice reference to Oklahoma gold. Laurey’s “Out of My Dreams,” performed with no band, is haunting. The terrifying “Poor Jud is Daid” and “In a Lonely Room” are both performed in darkness but shown in live videos. The lighting by Scott Zielinksi blinks from bright daylight to moody greens, to pitch black deadness.
The title anthem “Oklahoma!” that ends the show is still a feel good closing. Yet here it is transformed into a metaphor on modern violence relating to this current American Dream. You can’t help as you leave the theater unable to hum these classic songs the same way. This close will haunt you. Laurey is traumatized as she sings the finale. This “Oklahoma!” is astounding, moving, traumatic, and a masterpiece. “Many A New Day” revivals can’t get better than Daniel Fish's vision. Get 40.00 Rush seats details below.
Broadway SF Presents
The Bard Summerscape Production of
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
Music by Richard Rodgers.
Directed by Daniel Fish
Music Director Andy Collopy
Choreography by John Heginbotham
Must close Sept. 11
Two hours, 50 minutes. One intermission
Seats $56-$256. RUSH 40.00
Golden Gate Theatre,
1 Taylor St., S.F. 888-746-1799.
RUSH SEATS https://www.todaytix.com/