I was giddy walking into Oklahoma. After seeing it for the first time at St. Anne's Warehouse last year, I've become a massive fan of the show and the cast recording. To make this occasion more exciting, I was on the floor for this one.
This production of Oklahoma is intimate but impressive. Being on the floor, I felt like I was part of the performance, but there is no bad seat in the theater.
This production has been modernized from the storytelling to the marketing. In fact, while Curly is normally the lead role, you wouldn't know that from the posters. Laurey, played by Rebecca Naomi Jones, is the center of the marketing campaign for this show.
Walking into the theater, they have posters everywhere with the headline "Oklahoma was Never OK!" These go on to talk about how the ideal America we wish for never really existed.
The casting for this production is superb.
To start, Rebecca Naomi Jones is one of the best actresses of our generation. I've loved her work since she starred in American Idiot, and she continues to impress me with every role. Ms Jones takes a relatively one-dimensional character and makes her a person worth following. Her voice shines in Surrey with the Fringe on Top and People Will Say We're in Love.
Ali Stroker consistently pushes boundaries in her role as Ado Annie and outside of it. Ms Stroker is wheelchair bound, however that doesn't get in the show's way at all. The wheelchair becomes part of the choreography, new fans wouldn't know whether or not the character is disabled. Her character's relationships are often the comic relief of the show and Ms Stroker delivers each punchline to huge laughs.
Damon Daunno's Curly was much empathetic and an all around sweet guy. James Davis' Will Parker was fun to watch and reminded me of some people I met while I was in Gainesville, Florida. Patrick Vaill's Jud is convincing in his creepiness. Finally, I appreciated that Will Brill's Ali Hakim was much more toned down than the stereotypical versions seen in other productions.
This production was as modernized as it could be, without changing the source material. The banter between Laurey and Curley hasn't aged well. It's not offensive; it just doesn't make a lot of sense to a modern audience. Laurey's decision to go out with a very creepy man, Jud, to make Curly jealous, seems out of place.
That being said, other scenes were incredibly well done. The confrontation between Curly and Jud was unique. For a while, it's so dark that I began to see shapes as they're whispering to each other. When they begin the camera effects, it surprised the audience and perfectly captures the tone of the situation.
The dream sequence is intense. John Heginbotham's choreography is stunning and Gabrielle Hamilton executes it flawlessly. This scene exercised the show's creative muscle as we see everything going on in Laurey's psyche.
The trial at the end is handled delicately and beautifully. Historically, the audience takes it for granted that Curly shouldn't be convicted for murder. In this production we know that the system is broken, and it's really not clear what anyone deserves. The imagery of Curly and Laurey in white, covered in blood, singing the happy finale reminds us that the America we miss never really existed.
On a couple of lighter notes. At intermission they serve chili and cornbread to the audience. After getting my chili, I turned around to find Tony Shalhoub asking me for directions on where to get his. The actor famous for The Bands Visit and The Marvelous Mrs Maisel was in the audience with us. I like to say we go way back, to last weekend when he asked me where to get the chili.
I've also never seen anyone so content as Music Director Nathan Koci as his conducted the orchestra. The entire show he had a smile on his face, and it was obvious he was thrilled to be there.
Overall, I loved this production. I thought it was thoughtful in it's modernization but faithful to the original. I highly recommend you see it while it's around.