Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 'Oklahoma!' reimagined for ASU Gammage
Referred to as “not your grandmother's 'Oklahoma!',” the golden age production will soon be retold on a 21st-centrury stage like you’ve never seen it before, premiering Tuesday, Oct. 18, at ASU Gammage.
Revamped for a modern day audience, the musical tells the tale of an imperfect America and a community finding itself amid the turbulence of the frontier that shaped the nation years ago.
Long celebrated as an iconic piece of musical theater, “Oklahoma!” unites audiences with the idea of a flawless nation, basking in the illusion of a bright golden haze on the meadow. But viewed anew in the context of a country still struggling with racial, economic and gender equity, sharply divided by political beliefs and emerging from an isolating pandemic and racial reckoning, this production pushes back on the notion of a perfect country — instead suggesting the idea that America is still very much a work in progress.
“What you'll see is just sort of pulling back a deeper layer of some of the social angst I think is present already within the script,” says Sasha Hutchings, who is cast as Laurey Williams. “You just get a deeper focus on those elements of society, which definitely brings a darker tone to the story."
While the revival conveys messages that still prove relevant for audiences today, not a single word has been altered from the original script.
“Sometimes when you get a revival, edits are made or some people try to make things a bit more politically correct,” Hutchings says. “And we have not done that at all. ...It makes the story fuller.”
The production tells the story of a love triangle between farm girl Laurey and her two suitors, the charming cowboy Curly and the mysterious farmhand Jud Fry, as they theatrically expose the show’s darker psychological and societal commentary through their courtship.
“I think in the original version, or at least my experience of it ... it's sort of a foregone conclusion that Laurey and Curly will end up together, and that is definitely not the case within our story, or without and within our approach,” Hutchings said.
For her, Laurey is empowered, and she sees her character in a new light in the show’s spin within a modern context: “There is something about that that she's interested in, and for me, what that does is really highlight the choices that she has.
"A choice which really resonates with me as a woman, you know? In this time, when choices are being taken away and what it means, the autonomy that that gives you.”
To Hutchings, “Oklahoma!” doesn’t shield the audience from an interpretation of their own, and allows viewers to relate the experiences of the characters to their own lives. Not only does Hutchings hope that viewers are “able to see themselves and their loved ones represented,” but also to take that even further and “return to their lives and the people they love with a new lens with which to maybe approach.”
“When they realize that maybe the show is taking a turn they weren't expecting or taking a turn that they find interesting but don't know where it’s headed,” she said, she hopes that viewers “remain open and continue to ask questions.”
Both Broadway fans familiar with the classic production and first-time viewers can expect the unexpected with an unorthodox use of lighting; brightly gleaming in some scenes to unite the audience with performers, and turned off for others to direct the focus to the dialogue on stage. Like the revived production itself, Hutchings hopes that this show can challenge the norm for viewers and the “stagnant way of life” that our individual thinking becomes accustomed to.
“I hope that this show is disruptive to that,” she said.
Overall, Hutchings hopes that theatergoers will find a way to relate to the piece, feel inspired and leave the theater with a sense of curiosity.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” will be showing at ASU Gammage, Oct. 18–23. For more information, visit asugammage.com.