TPAC presents the classic ‘Oklahoma!’ with new energy
In our age of prequels, sequels, and reboots, it’s no wonder someone discovered “Oklahoma!” from Rodgers & Hammerstein!
The classic musical made its Broadway debut in 1943 and launched the golden age of musical theater with its groundbreaking choreography and catchy anthems about life on the American frontier, love and the state. For the past 79 years, the production has remained one of the most performed and revived musicals, cementing its place in the American ethos alongside apple pie and baseball. However, like the success of the latest two-time Tony Award-winning revival of “Oklahoma!” shows, it was about time someone modernized it.
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Directed by Daniel Fish, the new incarnation of “Oklahoma!” celebrates the series’ immense legacy while exploring the deeper, darker, and arguably more interesting subtexts at its core. And it does so without changing a single word of the original script or songs.
Featuring new musical arrangements by Richard Rodgers and actors from different races, backgrounds, sexualities, gender identities and religions, the revival was a hit on Broadway, where it ran for 328 performances in 2019. Now halfway through its nationwide tour, Fish’s “Oklahoma!” will be on stage May 3-8 at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville.
When “Oklahoma!” debuted at the St. James Theater in 1943, it immediately resonated with Americans, who 16 months earlier had endured the attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged the country into World War II. Here’s an upbeat, hopeful musician that “people could get lost in,” said touring cast member Christopher Bannow, who plays wistful farmer Jud Fry. “It allowed audiences to reminisce about America in the early 1900s, a seemingly more innocent time, and to celebrate the ideals of country and community. When we sing “Oklahoma”, sometimes we feel like we could sing “America”. It always felt like our musical – like America’s.
Revival offers pandemic-beleaguered 2022 audiences something similar, but with less rosiness and more realism, pulling the story and characters from the 1940s and into the current moment.
“We try to harness the same energy of the original in a way that makes it more relevant today,” Bannow said. “We always celebrate America, and by celebrating I mean we’re trying to accurately embrace America’s identity by going beyond a romanticized version.”
The production features a clean staging, characters dressed in modern clothing, and a seven-piece contemporary Bluegrass band onstage. The plot is essentially the same – Curly McLain, Laurey Williams and Jud Fry are still negotiating a heated love triangle while Teen Annie can’t say “no”, cowboys and farmers clash and hootenannies clash. ensue – but more substance is extracted from it. Themes like racism, sexuality, gun violence, classism, and suicide coexist with the show’s humor, hope, and exuberance.
“We want to bring all of America’s mess, beauty, sex and violence — everything that’s ever been there — onto the stage without telling you which parts you’re supposed to like or reject,” Bannow said.
Bannow’s own character, Jud, the story’s friendless villain, is reimagined as a more sympathetic character, undeserving of the treatment that leads to his quick demise.
“We often define ourselves by who doesn’t fit in and who isn’t allowed to be part of our community,” Bannow said. “In the story, Jud doesn’t do a lot of bad things before everyone starts accusing him of being bad. He’s the lowest class person in the community and he wants to be with Laurie That’s about all it takes for him to be naughty.
Even though the revival ends like the original (spoiler alert: Jud dies tragically and the community quickly moves on, but not before getting into the song), Bannow said the show heightens the seriousness of the demise. of Jud and community involvement in it; the original is just passing by.
“The ending, and really the show as a whole, invites the audience to re-examine ‘Oklahoma!’, to think more about what they like and why. To listen to it in the new light of 2022,” he said. “It’s an honor to play a villain in a production that’s not so determined about who’s right and who’s wrong, and with a director who’s much more into the gray areas. I think we, in as theatergoers and people in general, we like to see our expectations challenged, to be surprised.
Since its national tour in October 2021, the revival has been across the country, and Bannow said no matter where they go, in a red, blue or purple state, the show draws crowds.
“Oklahoma!” is an amazing cultural vessel because all different types of Americans love it. It’s wonderful to have something that will bring a lot of different people together to sit in a theater and experience that kind of grassroots entity again,” he said. “Audiences have been truly impressed with the way the show honors the iconic, nearly 80-year-old source material while bringing it into the 21st century. It is now accessible to a wider variety of audiences. know I will never think of ‘Oklahoma!’ again the same way.
If you are going to
When: May 3-8
Or: Andrew Jackson Hall of TPAC
More information: www.tpac.org