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Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell

March 31, 2022 Issue
CORRECTED PART 3 (March 30, 2022)

A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.

PART 3A: TRIANGLE THEATER REVIEW BY NANCY RICH

Director Daniel Fish's Cinematic Reinterpretation of
Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! Is Thrilling


Sasha Hutchings and Sean Grandillo star as Laurey Williams and Curly McLain in the national tour
of Oklahoma! now at DPAC (photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! arrived at the Durham Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, March 29th, which is the second stop on the 2022 tour. Director Daniel Fish has steered this production from its 2015 Bard Summerscape premiere, to a 2018 presentation at Brooklyn, NY's St. Ann's Warehouse, to its 2019 Broadway debut at the Circle in the Square Theatre (where it won the 2019 Tony Award® for Best Revival of a Musical), and now to the current U.S. Tour.

Fish's experience with directing films is reflected in his approach to directing live theater. There's a more natural, contemporary performance style that more than just freshens the soon-to-be 80-year-old property. This production is so far from traditional that "revival" may not be the appropriate word. It's more of a "reinterpretation" that might leave us thinking that the show was written in 2022 instead of 1943. But Fish doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you love this musical, chances are good that you'll at least have a strong appreciation for Fish's vision.

Richard Rodgers' music and Oscar Hammerstein II's lyrics and book are there, but with fresh orchestrations and boot-stomping arrangements by Daniel Kluger, performed by a seven-piece band. Kluger has big boots to fill, and hearing the new approach to very familiar music is one important reason to attend this production.


The national tour of Oklahoma!, now playing DPAC, stars Hennessy Winkler and Sis as Will Parker
and Ado Annie Carnes (photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Choreographer John Heginbotham has even bigger boots to fill with the choreography, because we immediately associate legendary choreographer Agnes de Mille (1905-93) with the 1943 Broadway premiere and subsequent productions of Oklahoma! If you attend the American Dance Festival in Durham every summer, Heginbotham's name may seem familiar, because of his 14 years in the Mark Morris Dance Group.

Mark Morris' influence is apparent in Heginbotham's choreography in the way that the music drives the motion so directly. In his playbill biography, he thanks Agnes de Mille. Her dances for the original production were groundbreaking for the time, influencing generations of choreographers to veer away from typical Broadway-style steps toward the incorporation of modern dance and folk dancing into the storytelling.

Heginbotham's "Dream Ballet" definitely has a twist. Rather than a dance focusing on which man Laurey Williams will choose, the men are taken out of the equation and there's a focus just on Laurey. In a March 18th article by Susan McDonald in The Providence Journal, lead dancer Gabrielle Hamilton calls the dream ballet the show's "seminal scene": "With this there's such a rebellion to it, such energy. It clears the path for Laurey to propel her into the second act with no judgments on her or thoughts of what women are supposed to do." (Note: On opening night at DPAC, Jordan Wynn performed the lead dancer role.)


Barbara Walsh and Patrick Clanton square dance as Aunt Eller and Mike in the national tour
of Oklahoma! at DPAC (photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

It's hard not to compare Curly McLain's opening song, "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," to the 1998 West End Revival performance by Hugh Jackman, directed by the great Trevor Nunn (Blu-ray recording available on Amazon). On Tuesday night, Hunter Hoffman (subbing for Sean Grandillo) was a tall, lanky, swaggering guitar-playing Curly. He began the song as a very simple serenade, which reflects the simplicity of the staging throughout. A simple room with chairs and tables, similar to a Ruritan or 4-H community hall, provides the backdrop for all of the scenes in the show.

Sasha Hutchings as Laurey may look familiar. Hutchings appeared in the original ensemble of Hamilton on Broadway and in the Disney+ recording. Hutching's gorgeous voice is most spectacular in her a capella solo, "Out of My Dreams" at the end of Act I.

This production encourages more sympathy for the character of Jud Fry, and Christopher Bannow has created something way more interesting than the cartoonish antagonist that we might have been expecting. "Lonely Room" is haunting and heartbreaking. And Bannow's reactions to Curly's song "Poor Jud Is Daid" are enhanced by the use of a live camera, capturing closeups of Barrow fed to a video projection on the back wall of the set.


The national tour of Oklahoma! at DPAC stars Sis and Mitch Tebo as Ado Annie Carnes and her
indignant daddy Andrew (photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

In the song "I Cain't Say No," Sis -- as Ado Annie Carnes -- brings a whole new level of interpretation to the lyrics, finishing the song with a reprise that should have finished with a mic-drop.

Benj Mirman as Ali Hakim brings home the punchlines and one-liners that lesser comics would have surely missed. And Hennessy Winkler as Will Parker provides the physical comedy, especially because his small stature next to a tall Ado Annie is a splendid sight gag -- especially during the "Persian Goodbye" kiss.

Barbara Walsh presents an atypical Aunt Eller, with less of a "sweet old granny" quality, and more of the toughness that a pioneer woman in Oklahoma would surely need to survive. Walsh appeared as Trina in the 1992 Broadway production of Falsettos, for which she received Tony and Drama Desk award nominations.


The Dream Squence of the tour of Oklahoma!, now playing at DPAC, features high-flying lead dancer
Gabrielle Hamilton (center) (photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Scenic designer Laura Jellinek has worked with lighting designer Scott Zielinski, projection designer Joshua Thorson, and special effects designer Jeremy Chernick to create a multitude of interesting stage pictures, using cinematic lighting effects, video, fog, and long moments of near-blackout darkness that are especially thrilling.

The show's running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission. There is mature content in this production, which is recommended for children ages 12 and up.


The Oklahoma! tour cast stars (from left) Mitch Tebo as Andrew Carnes, Ugo Chukwu as Cord Elam,
Christopher Bannow as Jud Fry, Sasha Hutchings as Laurey Williams, Benj Mirman as Ali Hakim,
Sis as Ado Annie Carnes, Sean Grandillo as Curly McLain, and Barbara Walsh as Aunt Eller
(photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Rodgers & Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday, March 29-April 3), presented as part of Truist Broadway at DPAC (Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham). TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhuR1w07cgs&t=1s. 2021-22 TRUIST BROADWAY AT DPAC SEASON: https://www.dpacnc.com/truist-broadway/season/2021-2022-truist-broadway-at-dpac. THE PRESENTER: https://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://www.instagram.com/DPACNC/, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and https://www.youtube.com/user/DPACLive. THE TOUR: https://oklahomabroadway.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/oklahoma-526789, https://www.facebook.com/oklahomabway, https://www.instagram.com/oklahomabway/, https://twitter.com/oklahomabway, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcFKTL2P5gIYjiECY7sNWMw. TOUR CAST: https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/oklahoma-526789#OpeningNightCast. TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/oklahoma-526789. THE SHOW: https://oklahomabroadway.com/, https://rodgersandhammerstein.com/show/oklahoma/, https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/oklahoma-6697, http://www.guidetomusicaltheatre.com/shows_o/oklahoma.htm, http://www.theatrehistory.com/american/musical014.html, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oklahoma!. THE COMPOSER, LYRICIST, AND PLAYWRIGHT: https://rodgersandhammerstein.com/, https://rnh.com/, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodgers_and_Hammerstein. TICKETS: $26.50 and up, plus taxes and fees. Call 800-982-2787 or click here to buy tickets. GROUPS (10+ tickets): 919-680-2787, Groups@DPACnc.com, and https://www.dpacnc.com/events/groups-services. DIRECTIONS: https://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/directions. PARKING: https://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/parking. DPAC COVID-19 REQUIREMENTS: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/vaccination-and-covid-19-test-requirements. INFORMATION: 919-680-2787 or CustomerService@DPACnc.com.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Nancy Rich is a local director/choreographer, with a love for the performing arts and a passion for supporting local artistic work. Nancy and her husband, Rod, own and operate Monkeybravo, a video production company. Nancy is one of the founders of Actors Comedy Lab and participates in local theater as a hired gun, a volunteer and, on very rare occasions, an actor. Nancy recently wrote a series of monologues called The PRINCESS Talks, performed at the 2017 Women's Theatre Festival.

 


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