Five Reasons Why Everyone Can and Should Say No to Oklahoma!
By: Iris Wiener
April 25, 2019: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! has been called “a classic” and deemed “groundbreaking,” yet after taking in Daniel Fish’s current production at Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theatre, one can’t help but wonder why.
Set on the prairies of the Oklahoma territory in 1907, the show is supposed to shed some light on the settling of the Wild West; instead, in its current incarnation, it is a tedious snoozefest of a musical, lacking substance on all fronts. The story centers on farm girl Laurey Williams (Rebecca Naomi Jones) and the pursuit of her hand by two rival paramours, cowboy Curley McLain (Damon Daunno) and the haunting farmhand Jud Fry (Patrick Vaill). The only redeeming moments in this elongated, dry wasteland of a show, is the secondary story about a romance between cowboy Will Parker (James Davis) and his flirty, ditzy fiancee Ado Annie (Ali Stroker). Still thinking about visiting Oklahoma!? Here are five reasons you should think again:“Oh, what a beautiful morning…” but, oh, what a dark and miserable evening. Literally. Audiences are in complete darkness as Curly works to convince Jud that he would be better off dead. Audiences are once again enveloped in black as they bear witness to Jud’s sinister romancing of Laurey. Though there are a few moments of levity, as in Ali Stroker’s delightful take on “I Cain’t Say No,” ultimately the musical is incredibly tedious, lengthy and depressing.
1. “Oh, what a beautiful morning…” but, oh, what a dark and miserable evening. Literally. Audiences are in complete darkness as Curly works to convince Jud that he would be better off dead. Audiences are once again enveloped in black as they bear witness to Jud’s sinister romancing of Laurey. Though there are a few moments of levity, as in Ali Stroker’s delightful take on “I Cain’t Say No,” ultimately the musical is incredibly tedious, lengthy and depressing.
2. Oklahoma! is not a dance-heavy show (with the exception of that unbearable dream sequence- see number two); however, John Heginbotham’s choreography at the climactic social is uneven and feels elementary. “The Farmer and the Cowman” features two-steps and country swing, none of it intense, jovial or captivating- all attributes that would be expected from such a number. The limited dancing throughout this production is forgettable at best, uninteresting at worst.
3. Speaking of its worst…just try to stay awake during a pointless, self-serving interpretive dance sequence at the start of Act II, in which performer Gabrielle Hamilton (who is credited with the name “Lead Dancer”) prances around the stage in dizzying, frenetic circles, pounding the stage to a screechy electric guitar in what is supposed to be a dream sequence. Anyone who has never seen a production of Oklahoma! will be entirely unclear about the purpose of this numbingly unnecessary scene, instead leaving them scratching their heads at director Daniel Fish’s choice to include such an untimely, aggravatingly bizarre sequence with an unbearably tremendous length.
4. For a show with such a needlessly long run time, it is highly problematic that there is no lesson to be learned from the story. If audiences really work to find symbolism and a deeper meaning in the dark ending, they might be able to put some semblance of significance together; however, it shouldn’t be so difficult to find redeeming qualities in a show. Audiences will not empathize with any of these loosely drawn characters, and it is a mystery as to why the story is so esteemed.
5. There are bad seats in this house; just ask the woman stuck sitting behind Will Parker lying on the table in front of her, leg in the air for at least ten minutes. Perhaps you’ll be seated at the bottom of the U-shaped construct; in such a case you would miss subtle moments integral to the plot. Jud’s cause of death is open for interpretation, mostly due to the fact that much of the audience can’t see a weapon and how it is (or is not) used. The Circle in the Square is a fantastic space, and Daniel Fish’s attempt at a creative interpretation of Oklahoma! is admirable in its unique challenges. However, its construct is too problematic, and yet another take on this poorly written show proves that no amount of luster, imagination and originality can make it one worth seeing.
April 7—Sept. 1. Circle in the Square Theatre, 1633 Broadway, NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time: two hours and 45 mins. including intermission. $69.50—$159.60. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com.
Photography: Teddy Wolff , Little Fang Photo