Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! – NOT

I have no issue per se with the pared down version of a classic or updating visuals, but rewriting and bizarre direction must have this show’s authors turning in their graves. The universal folk tale that warmed the hearts of America in 1943 is hauled before video close-up, occasionally acted in literal black-out, and ends with lingering images of a lurid, completely unbelievable, blood-splattered wedding a la Quentin Tarantino. (Yes, they changed this.)

Rebecca Naomi Jones (Laurey) and Damon Daunno (Curley)

Party store foil banners and wall décor comprised of shotguns create a kind of let’s put-on-a-show-in-a-barn-like atmosphere, while a stage floor full of trestle picnic tables filled with warm crock-pots (free chili at intermission) and soon-to-be-shucked corn indicate right off we’re not getting those famous production numbers – well, one loosey goosey “The Farmer and The Cowman” in Act II – since there’s no room to dance till then (and no dancers). (How do you actually refer to picnic hampers and show cheap, plastic lunchboxes?) Scenic Design – Laura Jellinek

Instead, characters strut, slap their thighs, stomp, and galumph, often sideways, between tables. This “all in good fun” approach works intermittently. While it’s fun to have company members drape themselves on railings interacting with the audience or seemingly react spontaneously, steering through this many obstacles is obviously a hassle.

Ali Stroker (Ado Annie) and James Davis (Will Parker)

The visible seven piece band playing western arrangements is good in context, sound pristine. (Sound Design – Drew Levy) Having acquired microphones for the play’s community Social, Director Daniel Fish apparently feels it necessary to justify expense by asking characters to use them occasionally – to no apparent end.

Laurey’s dream ballet so beautifully envisioned by Agnes de Mille, erupts an atonal aberration. Accompanied for the most part by raucous, dissonant, electronic music (plus loads of smoke), soloist Gabrielle Hamilton, barefoot, shaved head, wearing only a glittery Dream Baby, Dream T-shirt and frequently exposed spandex panties, offers something akin to Alvin Ailey on acid.

Though kinetically slamming around might be manifestation of after dinner indigestion, the number has nothing discernible to do with the girl’s confusion and yanks us out of narrative with ugly vehemence. (Choreography – John Heginbotham)

Gabrielle Hamilton

Damon Daunno’s Curley is boyishly sexy, considerably younger, and less sure of himself than predecessors. The incipient lovers seem like school kids struggling with romance. A bit more compensating cockiness would play better opposite our heroine’s stubborn reticence. The actor has easy, laconic manner and a pleasant voice, though I could do without the yodel. (He’s not the only one.) Where are all the musical theater baritones? When Curley and Laurey sing a duet, range is so close, we lose the male frisson.

Rebecca Naomi Jones (Laurey) has a fine Broadway voice. We believe the proud, can-do persona up till she’s happily dancing with Jud Fry, walking off with him from the Social, and allowing him to kiss her – once noisily on a blacked out stage, once at her wedding. Neither of these occasions are fathomable or any fault of Ms. Jones. Where’s the so-called fear?

Patrick Vaill (Jud Fry) and Will Brill (Ali Hakim)

In order for the plot to work, Jud Fry has to be palpably threatening and darkly poignant. This is usually accomplished by a combination of brute physical appearance and attitude. Unfortunately, Patrick Vaill represents neither aspect. The alternative of appearing to be wired crazy is also not accomplished.  Explain to me how a pitch, then dark stage enhances Jud’s confrontation with Curley as they sit almost nose to nose on a table top with a company member projecting the actors’ giant faces on a wall. (Projection Design – Joshua Thorson is obtrusive, but fine.)

As Ado Annie, wheelchair bound Ali Stroker navigates the space with fluency and grace. The actress, less traditionally naïve than lusty, has a solid voice, if occasionally stressed, and terrific spirit.

James Davis’ imbues her suitor Will Parker with guileless authenticity and comic, stunned reaction timing. He moves and sings well.

Ali Stroker (Ado Annie) and Will Brill (Ali Hakim)

Will Brill’s peddler Ali Hakim is palpably and deftly unnerved by the prospect of having to marry Annie, but less charmingly oily than one would like.

Mallory Portnoy’s laugh deserves cast credit. Mary Testa’s Aunt Eller has not a jot of the maternal behind sarcasm, which is missed. The rest of the company needs a lesson in focus. Unless they’re speaking, faces are blank, often even when addressed.

Contemporary, tight denim and cowboy boots represent a point of view. At the dance, however, men look appropriate in colorful, western shirts while women are stuffed into short, babydoll party dresses with high waists, exaggerated full skirts, and enormous petticoats signifying neither modernity nor history and decidedly unflattering. (Costume Design –          Terese Wadden)

Opinions about the work of Director Daniel Fish are embedded above. There’s a lively, pruned version of Oklahoma! in here somewhere, but what was once engaging is now too frequently irritating. This interpretation arrives spasmodic, hedging its bets with multiple perspectives, utilizing novelty not in service of the story, but for its own sake. It was easy to wonder whether the kitchen sink might be hidden beneath a table.

Photos: Little Fang Photo

Rogers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Music: Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on the play ‘Green Grow the Lilacs’ by Lynn Riggs
Directed by Daniel Fish
Circle In The Square
1633 Broadway

About Alix Cohen (601 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.