Oklahoma!: Disrespect on Broadway


Live Design

Damon Daunno who plays Curly in the new Broadway revival of Oklahoma!

Well, at least the cornbread was good.

I recently had the opportunity to see the new revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! And while I’ve never seen the original, I’m pretty sure there’s not as much blood in it. Oh my, was there a lot of blood.

The show is running in the Circle in the Square theatre, the only round theatre on Broadway. And because of that, the staging is a lot more unique than other shows. Many reviews adored the staging, saying how the intimate feel put a whole new spin on the show. Personally, having the lights on almost the entire time was very awkward. It gave me perfect view to see the cringe on everyone’s faces and to clearly see the people leaving.

The few times the lights did go out were probably the weirdest points of the show. There’s a point where Curly sings to Jud about his death. The lights went out and the entire theatre was black. No lights on anybody, just a couple of guys singing to each other about death in soft voices in the dark. And while that sounds charming, suddenly a giant projector on the only wall in the theatre came on filming in very bright flash the two boys facial expressions. It was interesting. Sadly, that wasn’t even the worst of it. The opening of the 2nd act was a 15 minute interpretive dance about sexuality performed by a woman who was not introduced before and never came back. It was performed in very little light and then the lovely projector came back so we could see how heavily the woman was breathing. I never understood why people left the theatre mid-show until that moment.

And even if the lights weren’t on for practically the whole time, the staging was just plain. The cast didn’t move around the theatre, there really wasn’t much moving- just a couple of cast members walking around and singing show tunes while they weaved through the audience members sat on the stage. It was just bad dinner theatre. And they did serve us dinner. Chili and corn bread during intermission. Like a good ol’ Broadway picnic. 

Not to say that the cast wasn’t good, they were fine. I happened to really like Patrick Vaill, who played Jud Fry, the main villain of the show. And while the character itself was bad, his horrifying acting and dark singing voice were perfect for the role. And when (spoiler alert) when he gets shot at the end, it was hard to stop looking at him, it looked like the man himself stopped breathing.

And while Vaill’s performance was mesmerizing, the rest of the cast- and ensemble as a whole- just fell flat. Oklahoma! has some really powerful songs, and it was disappointing when the cast just didn’t carry that power through. Maybe it’s an artistic choice, to strip down the show that changed musical theatre and essentially invented showstopping numbers; but it comes off as lazy and a little bit disrespectful.

However, most critics adore this show. It’s a New York Times Critics Pick. But it doesn’t matter what the critics say, if regular audience members can’t stand it and walk out mid-show, it might not be that good. Regular people are who buy the theatre tickets and if no one wants to go, it will close. No matter how intellectual and abstract it may be.

If for some reason you would like to see this for yourself, tickets for the Broadway run can be purchased here.