BY SANDY STAGGS
Covid-19 may have decimated the theatre industry for 18 months, but Greenville seems to be reaping the rewards as Broadway and touring shows again beset upon the performance halls of America.
Hadestown debuted its first national tour at the Peace Center and this week the action moves above-ground as the theatre morphs into the Midwest for Oklahoma! for only its second tour stop after opening in Minneapolis last week.
Winner of the 2019 Tony award for Best Revival, this sparse adaptation directed by Daniel Fish began at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College in 2015 and played Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2018 before moving to the Circle in the Square Theatre for an intimate staging featuring a seven-piece band and eight gallons of chili and cornbread served to the audience at intermission.
The touring company features a diverse cast lead by Sasha Hutchings as Laurey Williams, Sean Grandillo as Curly McLain, Chris Bannow as Jud Fry, Hennessy Winkler as Will Parker, and Sis taking on the role of Ado Annie Carne.
Patrick Clanton, a North Carolina native who has appeared at Flat Rock Playhouse, plays the character Mike which is an amalgam of ensemble characters. Our show is pretty stripped down so we don’t have an ensemble,” he told Carolina Curtain Call the morning after opening night in one of the twin cities.
“His name is only said once. Our director chose to present all of the characters in ways I didn’t think was possible for a show like this. My character ends up making some difficult choices in this show in order to survive. It’s been exciting to build a character and to really define him.”
And while this Oklahoma! is not your grandma’s Rodgers and Hammerstein, Patrick says, for the most part, “the text has not been changed. This is a modern interpretation but we are still doing the same Oklahoma! as in 1943 but some of the excess has been stripped away to reveal some of the darker story that has been there all along.”
Of course, moving from a 500-seat theatre to a 2,000+ theatre did require some alterations.
“You can’t feel in the rehearsal room what it would be like until you are there,” said Patrick about the transfer. “Once we got on stage, the director re-staged most of what we had already done. He wanted to retain the intimacy that was felt on Broadway.”
The original Broadway production featured the choreography in the “Dream Ballet” by the great Agnes DeMille. Patrick says patrons will recognize elements of DeMille, but that the dream ballet (choreographed by John Heginbotham and danced by Gabrielle Hamilton) “is probably the most radical departure from the original piece. We don’t seek to tear down what Rodgers and Hammerstein built; it was radical in its time, and we are just continuing that tradition and feeling these kinds of connections with the original Oklahoma!”
And how does Oklahoma! remain relevant more than 75 years later?“This production makes some of the issues even more relevant in our society,” Patrick adds. “And the darker undercurrent that has always been there will really shock people.”
Oklahoma! runs through Sunday, November 21 at the Peace Center in Greenville. Tickets are available at peacecenter.org or by calling (864) 467-3000.