Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma in Chicago at the CIBC Theater

Sasha Hutchings, Sean Grandillo and the company of the national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! - Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.jpg
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By Sarah Meyer (Splash Magazines Journalist)

If you don’t know the background or premise of Oklahoma, you may sit through this play, especially this modernized version, scratching your head. It’s full of sexual innuendos, love triangles, death and sadness. As the final curtain drops, you may wonder, what was the point? Well, the original version takes place in the territory of Oklahoma in the early 1900’s. The musical tells the story of two pairs of lovers: Laurey with suitors Curly, a cocky cowboy and Jud, a ranch hand; as well as Ado Annie with suitors Will, a local boy and Ali, a peddler passing through town. Sure, maybe there is an undertone of the bad blood between cowboys and the settlers of the land, but the real story seems to be a twisted look at love.  

Sis in the national tour o…mmerman for MurphyMade.jpg

This showing of Oklahoma is what the director, Daniel Fish has called Oklahoma 2.0. It’s not your typical, frilly Rodgers & Hammerstein production. The director has removed the Broadway glitz and glamor and made it more intimate. There is only one set, only a couple costume changes, and the actors stay on stage almost the whole time. We even see technicians clearing props during the show. It seems as though the goal was to remove the third wall. That goal was met, but it does lose some of the magic that makes a Broadway show, well, made for Broadway.

The company of the national to…immerman for MurphyMade

Costumes are an important visual component of any storytelling. The characters were all dressed for different decades, while the dialogue stayed true to the early 1900’s. Confusing? Yes, but maybe that was to show that trying to follow your heart is hard through any time period, or maybe it was just a fluke. The very modern dance number, the only dance number really, that opened the second act, featured a dancer in a sparkly top and booty shorts. Another head scratching moment. Regardless, these things made the audience think, and talk (there was lots of chatter during intermission). That’s the goal of a director’s job, isn’t it?

While the storyline of Oklahoma may be less than stellar and oftentimes leaves you puzzled, the cast delivering this story was incredible. The 2.0 version is quite diverse, and each actor knew how to deliver drama and comedy equally well.  While the mood was often melancholy, the acting was not. Curly, played by Sean Grandillo, gave off Elvis/boy band vibes, which seemed both out of place and just right all at the same time. However, there were two stand out performances in this show: Hunter Hoffman playing Ali Hakim, who brought the comedy this story so badly needed, as well Sis, playing Ado Annie, a full-figured woman not afraid to go for what she wants, who can sing like no one else.

If you’re looking for happy go-lucky entertainment, this might not be your show of choice. If you are looking for something very different from the norm, especially in the world of musicals, and you want to challenge your mind and be a bit in awe, this is the show for you. 

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