This article appeared in the October 11, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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‘Oklahoma!’ re-imagined: The classic musical meets modern times

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP/File
The cast of "Oklahoma!" performs at the 73rd annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 9, 2019, in New York.
Ali Martin
California Bureau Writer

There’s been a lot of re-imagining the last several years. “Hamilton” took the world by storm with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s re-imagined story of America’s Founding Fathers. The pandemic forced many of us to examine daily life afresh and draw clear lines around our priorities. Faced with the possibility of a turkey shortage, some of us are starting to think about what Thanksgiving might look like without the iconic bird. 

And last weekend, my family and I saw the re-imagined “Oklahoma!” – Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, set in early-1900s Midwestern farm country. It’s a classic tale about how we define community and how we treat outsiders, about love and longing.

The songs were familiar – “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” and of course, “Oklahoma!” – but not much else. 

A diverse cast and acoustic guitar opener signal right away that this is a new take. The tonal shift is tense and dark. Sometimes literally – a couple of scenes play out with no lights at all, the pitch black lending to ambiguous interpretations of what’s happening on stage. And that’s the point.  

Director Daniel Fish, who’s known for turning productions on their head, told the San Francisco Chronicle: “We don’t, nor should we, have the power to determine someone else’s interpretation of the show. And if I give too much of a frame, then inevitably I’m interfering with that in a way that I don’t think I should do.”

Reviews have called it brooding, thrilling, terrifying, provocative. A masterpiece. As we left the theater, I heard one woman call it “‘Oklahoma!’ on acid.” In the car on the way home, our own reviews were a similar mix. It left us feeling melancholy – the teenagers especially. But it got us thinking, and talking, about old ideas and new light. 

This article appeared in the October 11, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 10/11 edition
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