‘Oklahoma!’ ending explained: How America reacts to the musical

The following contains spoilers from the Broadway musical revival Oklahoma!, which is currently touring nationally.

The latest Broadway revival of Oklahoma!, now concluding its year-long national tour, leaves theatergoers generally in adoration, awe, anger or confusion. Some performances of the Tony-winning production continued amid riotous strikes or loud boos; One ended with a patron running from his seat and vomiting at a volume clearly audible to the actors.

“I distinctly remember bowing while an older white man right in front of me in the front row frowned and waved both thumbs down,” lead actress Sasha Hutchings, who stars as Laurey, told The Times. “I know this show can be harrowing and confusing, especially for those who are very attached to what this piece represents in their minds. But I trust this piece and I trust this version, and even if there’s a negative reaction, hopefully it’s productive. This guy, something happened to him; he won’t forget that, it won’t leave him any time soon.”

It is rare that a roadshow, even anecdotal, evokes such remarkable reactions (a Times reader called it “shocking, destructive, and an affront to the intent of the creators of the 1943 musical”). But then again, this is Oklahoma!, the much-loved collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II that became Broadway’s first blockbuster and a golden age of musical theatre.”[It’s] a brilliant potpourri of entertainment,” wrote Edwin Schallert of The Times of a 1946 performance. “It’s so extraordinary and kind of unanalysable.”

A party dance department of "Oklahoma!"

“Oklahoma!” Company members, from left, Mitch Tebo, Ugo Chukwu, Christopher Bannow, Sasha Hutchings, Benj Mirman, Sis, Sean Grandillo and Barbara Walsh.

(Evan Zimmerman)

With its seemingly light-hearted storyline, crowd-pleasing comedy, and lively musical score, “Oklahoma!” itself has become synonymous with the romanticized, ahistorical, idealistic American identity it wrestles with in the lyrics. This is mainly due to the film adaptation from 1955, notes Times critic Charles McNulty: “The vision of America emanating from the big screen, with its glittering cornfields and its folksy goodness and simplicity, was immediately incorporated into a nation’s self-esteem. ‘Oklahoma!’ is not just a musical, it is a cornerstone of American myth.”

It is understandably surprising that a new version of a work so regularly performed in schools and community playhouses should be described as “nervous,” “dark” and “dreadful,” and abused as “Wake-lahoma”, “Sexy Oklahoma” and “The Oklahoma! that f-.” Director Daniel Fish didn’t aim for such adjectives and nicknames when he first directed a stripped down version starring Bard College students in 2007. The experiment – which then evolved into a fully staged production at Bard in 2015, an Off-Broadway run in 2018, and a Broadway transfer in 2019 – laid the text’s sexual tension, toxic masculinity and America’s genocidal devices – open to purpose methodology.

“Actually, it was an instinct or a whim – something in me said, ‘I want to do this,'” he recalls of choosing the piece. “I think I went into it like, ‘I kinda know the show,’ and then I just went with it and said, ‘No, I don’t know the show at all.’ It’s a brilliant piece of writing – there’s a layered and complicated story I didn’t know existed about the nature of community, the role of the outsider, and a miscarriage of justice. When I looked at that [trial in the] In the last scene, I definitely said, ‘Wait a minute. What the hell is that?'”

Fish worked closely with the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization on the iconoclastic revival, which “had some questions and concerns, but they were never mandated, it was always a conversation.” Without changing any of the lyrics and adjusting just a few lines, Fish’s bold reinterpretation — set in a gun-topped community hall and featuring a bluegrass band — restates many of the show’s often sentimental pivots.

Christopher Bannow, Sean Grandillo, and Sasha Hutchings

Tensions simmer at the Box Social attended center left by Christopher Bannow’s Jud, Sean Grandillo’s Curly and Sasha Hutching’s Laurey.

(Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Is the central conflict really a “love triangle” when coveted farm girl Laurey – a woman with no options in the Claremore Indian Territory of Oklahoma in 1906 – must choose between handy cowboy Curly or lurking farmhand Jud? Is it so funny when Curly tries to convince Jud to kill himself so he can date Laurey by default, and is it so romantic when they both go out of their way to “win” her in an auction? And who is really responsible for Jud’s death in the end?

Numerous underreddit threads have debated this last question as previous productions have presented the scene as a clear victory over a villain. His stage directions originally describe Jud falling on his own knife, “which is exactly what happens in the revival,” says Fish of Jud, who now places the gun in Curly’s hand, takes a small step toward him, and slowly leans toward it submits to be shot by him. “I love that I’ve heard so many different interpretations, but to me it’s a suicide that he’s forcing everyone else to be a part of.”

Fish’s decision to slow down the ensuing “process” makes the community’s spontaneous and quick exoneration of the blood-covered Curly all the more sinister – a confusing choice for fans of previous versions. “All those lines are usually played for laughs,” explains Barbara Walsh, who started her career with an “Oklahoma!” now touring and playing Tante Eller. “But everyone has seen this crime and nobody is saying anything, we are standing by what we know to be true. So what Daniel did is expose the flaws and humanity of these people, or lack thereof.”

All of the characters, each in varying states of disbelief and despair at what they have done together, then throw themselves into the famous “Oklahoma!” song, with many viewers mostly smiling, clapping and singing along. “When I first saw this, I was really concerned,” says Fish. “And then it got so interesting that people would do that after the scene that had just happened. This is the world we live in.”

This was especially true when the tour stopped in Oklahoma City, where the theme tune is the state song. “We could see some people stop clapping, like, ‘maybe I shouldn’t,’ but towards the end of the song they were like, ‘We see what a crazy thing happened, we don’t care, we’re going to go ahead anyway , and then they started all over again,” says Ugo Chukwu, who plays Cord. “I was like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s how it is.'”

A man holds a box, apparently as a gift.

Christopher Bannow, center, as Jud, Sasha Hutchings as Laurey and Sean Grandillo and Curly in Jud’s death scene in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!”

(Evan Zimmerman)

Touring Oklahoma! – which closes at the Ahmanson Theater this weekend and opens in the West End next year – meant making compromises, like converting in-the-round blocking for proscenium stages and realizing the amplified sound of the seven piece band in much larger venues. Regional presenters urged an abbreviated dream ballet that illustrated Laurey’s attraction between Curly and Jud. “There was a concern that audiences in smaller towns wouldn’t take it, that it would be too weird for them,” says Fish. “It annoys me because the audience is often smarter and more playful than we give them credit for.”

Well, most viewers, that is. Among the production’s rave reviews and standing ovations are critics who say so “devastates a musical theater classic” and ticket holders departing during the intermission. Fish doesn’t care if theatergoers don’t “get” it (what frustrates him more is if the play is skewed with flawed marketing descriptions or the “Late Late Show With James Corden” Bit that “does not represent the show at all.”). But some of that negativity — in print, on message boards, on social media, in person — has taken its toll on the cast.

“I didn’t do this show for people to stand up and clap every time and love it,” says Hutchings. “But at the end of the day I’m still human and I work on stage to give you the most honest performance I can. It’s very painful when I feel like someone is treating me with that kind of rejection or contempt.”

Such complaints can be growing pains. “The theater has always been accessible and available to the same group of people and, for the most part, has been a safe space for those viewers,” says Sis, who plays Ado Annie. “I think these older white people get the idea that theater is changing and that there are many different ways that a work can live.

“It was interesting to see Daniel, this elderly white man, take this piece that has served his community well and turn it against them like a gun,” she adds. “We can only perform what we created together and say, ‘This is ‘Oklahoma!’ what it was really about as opposed to what you all created in your minds. Take it or leave it, we still get paid.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-10-15/oklahoma-revival-ending-reactions ‘Oklahoma!’ ending explained: How America reacts to the musical

Sarah Ridley

USTimesPost.com is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – admin@ustimespost.com. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Related Articles

Back to top button