“Oklahoma” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – October 19, 2022


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Many Broadway shows use unique casting and are presented in theaters with special audience configurations.  These productions often secure glowing reviews that focus on the performers and staging netting financially successful engagements that make them ripe to tour the country.  That’s especially true with well-known shows. Often, these acclaimed productions fail to duplicate New York castings and tours must play in conventional theaters.

Such is the case with the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first creation, “Oklahoma.”  The lengthy 1943 musical is done to death.  The only reason to see it again is if the distinctive staging and castings are duplicated.  If not repeated, the shows sputter and die but popular show titles sell subscriptions.

A long list of justifications to say that the “Oklahoma” revival playing here this week lacks the Broadway hoopla it garnered when it premiered in 2019.  This “Oklahoma” looks cheap with a unit set that may have worked on Broadway in an in-the-round theater but the production doesn’t fill up ASU Gammage and it lacks the outstanding New York cast.

The touring performers are proficient and some of the Broadway casting diversity is present but these players do nothing to boost the tired show.  In New York, the most unique casting was Ali Stroker’s Ado Annie.  She was the first wheelchair user to win a Tony Award but she isn’t part of the tour.

The 75-year-old musical’s simple story of cowboy Curly and farm owner Aunt Eller’s niece Laurey’s love affair goes nowhere unexpected.  We always expect the pair to end up together even with farmhand Jud’s wooing of her.  The show was originally set in 1906 before Oklahoma statehood but the production looks like it has been reset in the present so none of this weird production makes sense.

Lacking the intimate New York theater with the audience on top of the action and where the unedited original dialogue could be heard, the huge ASU Gammage space with dreadful acoustics, doesn’t work even if the concept was ever justified.  Daniel Fish’s pedestrian staging, John Heginbotham’s blah choreography, and stark lighting including some scenes played in complete darkness doesn’t help either.

The only unusual tour casting is Sis’ Ado Annie.  She stomps and carries-on but plays the role as we’ve always seen it.   The rest of the cast is summer stock caliber from Sean Grandillo‘s whining Curly to Sasha Hutchins’ none-to-feminine Laurey so the performers are nothing special.

And don’t think this reaction wasn’t shared by local audiences.  After the opening night intermission, a third of the capacity audience disappeared.  The dated show almost ends with the singing of the title tune but 15 minutes of the musical remains but many headed for the exits anxious to escape.  Clearly, this “Oklahoma” was the worst Broadway show to ever play ASU Gammage and there have been many duds over time.

“Oklahoma” continues through October 23 at ASU Gammage.  If available, tickets may be obtained by calling Ticketmaster at 480-965-2022 or ordering tickets online at www.ticketmaster.com.

Grade: F-

10 Responses to ““Oklahoma” – ASU Gammage”

  1. Todd said:

    Oct 20, 22 at 07:50

    Your critique is spot on but too nice. This performance was awful on so many levels – production value, blocking, acting, vocals and the big one that everyone is afraid to say ( but the audience did by escaping at intermission) was the complete and utter disrespect for the audience.

    What do I mean by this?

    It means you care more about shoving a social agenda down the audience’s throat than engineering a quality production. It means you throw together an unprofessional gaggle of so-called “performers” and let them be “them” rather than have their performances serve the story. It means you slaughter the story so much with in-your-face flaunting of extraneous social issues you make the audience feel so uncomfortable they wished their chairs had an ejection seat feature. It means you put together a cast that a majority of the audience cannot identify or connect with. It means you alienate a large percentage of the audience to highlight a social minority. In short this rendition was a monument to the “it’s all about me” culture.

    When you tell a story you NEVER design it around THEME. Never. You will just end up with a morass of garbage that feels preachy and uncomfortable to the majority. Oklahoma is now the flagship of how you ruin broadway.

    If the Gammage has any integrity at all it will cancel the remaining performances and refund everyone’s tickets for allowing this abomination to stain their theater.

    I have NEVER been to a production where a third of the audience just got up and left mid performance. Let that sink in.

  2. Lorna F Lively said:

    Oct 20, 22 at 15:52

    I agree. The show was the worst I have ever seen and I am a regular theater goer for many years. We left at intermission and wished we could have left sooner without disrupting others. To pay $400 for such an awful performance is very upsetting. Gammage has the worst sound system that always makes it difficult.

  3. Joanne said:

    Oct 21, 22 at 10:44

    Todd’s review is spot on. This was the worst performance I ever seen. EVER. It doesn’t even rise to a high school level in performance, costuming, set design or production, much less in honoring the story of this classic. It dragged on and on and in the end, I felt like I had been dragged. It is an embarrassment to the craft and should be an embarrassment to Gammage.

  4. Colin said:

    Oct 21, 22 at 14:41

    I liked the show overall; I was deeply moved by some parts and deeply bored by others. I spent the first hour thinking it hadn’t been worth the money; I left the theater convinced that it was. But I also knew ahead of time that the show was polarizing. Having seen and been involved in several productions of “Oklahoma!” over the years, I likely wouldn’t have bought tickets to this production if I thought it was the same show as usual.

    To be fair, the first hour of the show was indeed boring. There was little choreography, little energy, little movement, and the acting was sub-par, too. I suspect this was a deliberate decision, to contrast the initial half of the show with the scenes involving Jud Fry.

    Minor spoiler: This production changes nothing from the original script (except for a minor detail at the end that’s so logical it might as well be filling a Rodgers and Hammerstein plot-hole). But lighting and emphasis manage to change a happy-go-lucky show about a love triangle into a show about a man we’d today call an “incel,” and it’s absolutely chilling once you realize that, and once you realize that the story you’re seeing was in there all along.

    I object to the tendency for negative reviewers to suggest the new show is promoting some sort of “social agenda.” Considering that the dialogue is almost completely unchanged, it’s not clear what that “social agenda” might be. I do hope people aren’t just referring to the fact that Ado Annie is played by a trans woman. As in every other production, she’s played for comic relief…no discernible “social agenda” there.

    The biggest problem with this production (and channeling commenter Todd’s line about “disrespect for the audience”: This production is made for people like me: those who know the script and the story already and are eager to see their expectations creatively subverted. It has less to offer those in the audience who are unfamiliar with the show.

  5. Richard Arroyo said:

    Oct 22, 22 at 07:23

    Totally agree with the disappointed reviews here. I expected a “classic” presentation but instead this production DID feel “socially engineered” to be consistent with the ethos of a MSNBC viewpoint of America in 2022. I was surprised that none of the reviews I read mention the very odd, discordant opening number of Act II…a stark, jarring, ear- shattering modern dance number which left the audience scratching their heads as to where it came from and it’s relevancy to the story being presented. To suggest that R&H would “turn over in their graves” at how this production was offered up and received at the Gammage last night would be a colossal understatement.

  6. Larr said:

    Oct 22, 22 at 09:24

    Chris’s review hammers the nail right on the head. Worse piece of garbage I’ve ever seen . Roger’s and Hammerstein would be turning over in their graves if they had to sit through that trash .suffer God Awful. We were out of there at intermission amongst the many that couldn’t get out fast enough. People were disgusted and joking as to how bad it was . The only reason I thought about staying would be to see how many of the paying audience returned for a second act of torture. But I wasn’t that
    curios !, to put myself through another hour of whatever that was supposed to be .In 50 years of attending theatre productions I have never experienced any reaction like it from an audience. The show needs to be canceled now and money refunded.
    Not to be overlooked is the anemic acoustics at ASU Gammage. At first I thought it was my 70 yr old ears , but after witnessing multiple performances at that venue and reading similar comments it is clearly an issue at that theatre. We’re never going back until something is done . ASU, it’s time to step up and do the right thing . Fix it

  7. L.E said:

    Oct 22, 22 at 18:17

    As a thespian myself and minor in music theater, I was incredibly disappointed by this performance. So much so that I walked out before the intermission. The darkness during and after Jud’s apparent death was not creative and lacked direction. As a viewer, it was ridiculous sitting in the dark for more than 5 mins and then watching a video….??!! What?!

    It’s a classic for a reason. The set was boring, the staging was blah, choreography nearly non existent, the Ado Annie trans actor made the role cheap and cliché. She’s supposed to be fun and carry a lightness with her presence. Everything felt heavy and I even saw a stage hand come gather props during one scene, which was very distracting.

    I felt totally disrespected as an audience member and I’m glad I didn’t waste anymore of my time on it.

    I’d like a refund this show was so bad.

  8. Jeff said:

    Oct 23, 22 at 02:22

    Don’t forget the long silent pauses that just happen many times through the performances
    I have no idea about what purpose they served. What it looked like was the actor forgot their line and it felt very uncomfortable.
    The best part was the pre show announcement that there would be firearms in the show, but they assured us that there was no live ammo used.
    I guess if that was not the case we would have a new cast at every performance.

  9. J C Young said:

    Oct 23, 22 at 15:41

    We left at intermission. And even that was too late. I can’t imagine this musical could have been brought so low. Very sad.

  10. Susan said:

    Oct 25, 22 at 17:29

    I so wish we had read your review before 4 of us attended on Friday evening. We would have quickly tried to change this for any other Gammage show later this year. This was truly awful and we agree with every one of the comments above. If our separated seating with text messages during intermission hadn’t been too late, we would have left at intermission too. But we agreed through texts that the 2nd act wouldn’t get any worse. Sitting through that endless, loud awkward dream dance sequence should have been our signal to leave, but we persisted through to the macabre ending. WORST Ever in 20+ seasons.