Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!
Boasting a superb cast, and a seven-piece band (led by Andy Collopy) that brilliantly interpret Rodgers' music with a country/bluegrass flavor (orchestrations and arrangements by Daniel Kruger), this production is not one for traditionalists. While the production drags in places, most especially in the "dream ballet" that opens act two (in most productions it closes act one), it sets itself apart from all those previous versions with its rather outré, sexy vibe. When at one point Will Parker (a charming and energetic Hennessy Winkler) struts across the stage toward Ado Annie (played with tremendous sass by Sis) and slaps his ass with each stride, or when Ado Annie slides her knee into Will's crotch as they embrace, or in the moments when Curly (a very un-curly Sean Grandillo) and Laurey (played with searing ferocity by Sasha Hutchings) tease us with physical intimacy that almost ends in a kiss, audience members fanning themselves with their programs were reacting to more than lack of AC in the Golden Gate. Here "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" is more a song of seduction than a mere celebration of a fancy horse-drawn gig.
There are also several scenes in which the stage goes completely black and all we experience are the disembodied voices of the cast as they speak into microphones–until a small handheld camera is used to project grainy black-and-white images onto the flat upstage. This is most effective in the scene that leads into "Pore Jud is Daid," in which Curly suggests to Jud (Christopher Bannow) that that fine rope he has and the solid hook in his lonely room could be put to use for suicide in a way that calls to mind recent cases of internet bullying. On opening night, as the camera was tight on Bannow's face, we could feel his character's pain at the morbid thoughts Curly was implanting in his mind as a tear emerged from Bannow's right eye and rolled slowly down his cheek. But the biggest emotions from Bannow come when he wails on his solo number, "Lonely Room." It's as if all the solitude and teasing and discontent of Jud's life erupt like a long dormant volcano suddenly exploding with an earth-shaking force.
As Curly, Grandillo (who also plays guitar, turning his Curly into a singing cowboy out of a Hollywood western) puts his plaintive tenor to good use, bringing an almost ironic tone to "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" (during which the rest of the cast–all of whom are on stage for most of the show–did not seem to exhibit a sunny outlook, but rather uniform scowls). He and Laurey share a sort of anti-chemistry early on as they circle each other warily, each seeming to know their paths are bound to converge at some point, just not quite yet.
The set, by Laura Jellinek, is almost monochromatic in its wheat-y blondness, from the array of narrow tables and chairs to the upstage flat that suggests the vast emptiness of the American prairie in the early 20th century. An array of garlands stretching from stage left to stage right add an energizing dash of color to the scenes, and Scott Zielinski's lighting is likewise mostly utilitarian, but with moments of brilliance and almost pastel washes that establish different moods. Daniel Fish's directorial choices are mostly successful, but the proscenium staging lacks the sense of immersion that an in-the-round approach (as the show was staged on Broadway beginning in 2019) would have given the show.
The set is flanked on either side by racks and racks and racks of rifles and shotguns and–in true Chekovian tradition–a gun plays a key role at the denouement of this Oklahoma!, and by doing so diverts rather severely from the original ending of the show, in a way that is not at all "sweet and tender" and makes it tough to truly love a suddenly–and seemingly impulsively–cruel Curly.
Oklahoma! runs through September 11, 2022, at SHN's Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets range from $56-$256, and are available by calling the box office at 888-746-1799 or by visiting broadwaysf.com. For more information on the tour, visit oklahomabroadway.com/tour/.