Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Grace
When composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist-librettist Oscar Hammerstein II created the musical in 1943, their focus was on not-too-distant history (Oklahoma became a state in 1907) and on the forging of community between cattle ranchers and farmers, two groups whose ideas didn't necessarily fit together comfortably. Without changing the text, Fish has found a way to make the story uncomfortably contemporary.
Rather than depicting tall cornstalks and green spaces, Laura Jellinek's monochromatic scenic design places the 12-member cast and onstage musicians in a dusty beige space with wooden tables and chairs, and a hand-drawn-looking scene of homes and fields on the back wall. In Fish's conceit, the performers tell the story while gathering for a down-home meal of chili and cornbread. (Unlike the pre-COVID-19 New York production, audience members are not invited to eat onstage during intermission.) Most prominent are several gun racks on the side walls of the set.
The intentionally diverse cast ably performs the familiar songs, as reorchestrated for a seven-piece country band. Sean Grandillo is a youthful, swaggering Curly with an ethereal voice, well matched by Sasha Hutchings as a prickly Laurey. As Ado Annie, the "girl who cain't say no," the trans performer Sis offers both a powerful gospel-tinged voice and the awareness that she could easily out-wrestle either Will Parker (Hennessy Winkler) or Ali Hakim (Benj Mirman). Christopher Bannow plays Jud Fry as an outwardly shy man hiding deep internal turmoil: his rendition of "Lonely Room" is chilling. Barbara Walsh is a sage, dry-witted Aunt Eller.
Terese Wadden's costume design succeeds in creating an illusion of ordinary people in their everyday clothes. Scott Zielinski's mostly naturalistic lighting design does have its occasional moments of mood-setting color washes.
Some of Fish's innovations take getting used to. The scene in which Curly confronts Jud in the smokehouse begins in full darkness and later incorporates jarring close-up video projections designed by Joshua Thorson. Also, Fish and choreographer John Heginbotham have removed all context from Laurey's dream ballet (performed on press night by Jordan Wynn): she's overwrought and frightened but alone on the stage, dancing to menacingly amplified versions of Rodgers' tunes.
Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! runs through April 10, 2022, in the Eisenhower Theater at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org. For more information on the tour, visit oklahomabroadway.com/tour/.
Music by Richard Rodgers
Directed by Daniel Fish