Oklahoma National Tour
Last night I was lucky enough to attend opening night of the National Tour of Oklahoma at the Orpheum. This production is a tour of the 2019 Broadway revival directed by Daniel Fish, which took Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s oldest show and gave it a modern take. I was lucky enough to see the production in New York, and was both thrilled and anxious to be able to see it again. In New York it played on Broadway’s smallest stage (The Circle in the Square theater, with 776 seats), in comparison the Orpheum Theater has 2600 seats. In addition the national tour translates the groundbreaking production from the in the round format to the proscenium stage, which it did seamlessly. In moving to a larger theater it lost a bit of its intimacy, but as the show is only in town for six days, it is thrilling at so many more people have the chance to experience the show.
This production is able to change very little from the actual text and create a modern feeling show, it is sexy and tense and the 2 hour 45 minute run time goes by very quickly. The songs are the same, they feel velvety smooth and wrap you up in their familiarity. The cast is phenomenal. Sean Grandillo as Curly and Sasha Hutchings as Laurey have great chemistry. And Sis as Ado Annie steals the show. Never before have I seen a standing ovation in the middle of act 1, which she more than earned after her performance of I Cain’t Say No. It was a fresh and modern night at the theater, and one that over all I would recommend, but just know that you aren’t going into see the Oklahoma that you might think you know, it is enjoyable, but also confusing.
Caution: Spoilers Ahead
After the show, the one element that I keep thinking about is the character Jud, and what exactly the show was trying to communicate about his character. Jud is the last point in the love triangle of Curly and Laurey. He is the farm hand that works at Aunt Eller’s farm, which is also where Laurey lives. Jud, in this production is quiet and brooding, and clearly obsessed with Laurie. She speaks of being afraid of him and locking her doors at night, she is obviously aware of his feelings towards her. Jud speaks of wanting Laurey in a way that he feels she is his right. This dynamic between a women and a man who lusts after her and feels he deserves her is not a new one, it is sadly timeless. For me watching the show, I knew where this could head and I was afraid for Laurey, as were the other characters in the show, as they tried to stop Jud from successfully winning a date with Laurie at an auction.
But at the same time in this production Jud is made into a more sympathetic character and possibly just misunderstood. The very talented Christopher Bannow portrays him in the national tour. He is shown to be the victim of bullying and intimidation by Curly (in what is perhaps the most troubling and confusing scene of the show). The mesmerizing dream ballet is performed wonderfully as a solo dance by performer Gabrielle Hamilton, but changing this is to a solo dance number removes the more violent portrays of Jud in previous dream ballet sequences. And finally, the moment just before Laurey tells Jud off for good is performed in total darkness with the audience only hearing loud kissing noises and then the unbuckling of a belt before the lights come back on. There are no sounds of protest, leaving it up for the audience to wonder, was it this consensual. My personal opinion was Laurey went along out of fear, not out of interest.
It was an obvious directorial choice to tone down the violent parts of Jud. He is instead portrayed as troubled, lusting for Laurey, with just the potential for violence. It is left to the audience to decide, villain or victim, or something in between. People with different life experiences are going to walk away with different opinions. Normally these independent interpretations of a show or portrayal are things that I find exciting about theater, but in this case it just feels dangerous and dismissive.
Regardless one of my favorite things about theater is the conversations that it can bring up, so I would be very interested to hear other people’s thoughts.
The national tour of Oklahoma is playing at the Orpheum Theater through Sunday November 14th. Masks and proof of vaccinations or recent negative PCR test are required for admission.
*Photos by Matt Murphy