Here’s what you need to know about the touring production of Oklahoma! at the Providence Performing Arts Center running through Sunday.
First, a good number of people did not return after the intermission. This is never a good sign.
Second, on the way out, the question most often overheard was, “What the heck did I just see?”
To their credit, the show’s producers ask that you check out the “Know Before You See It” message on PPAC’s website. They warn that this version of the classic musical is “reimagined” and “stripped down to reveal the darker psychological truths at its core.”
For those who don’t know the story, here’s the synopsis: the cowman and the farmer struggle to survive on the nation’s frontier, as the Oklahoma territory prepares to become the newest star on the American flag. Curly’s a cowman in love with farm girl Laurey. He wants to take her to the box social, but she’s already said yes to farmhand Jud, mostly to make Curly jealous. The love triangle heats up and explodes and ends badly. In between, everyone sings a lot of songs.
I’m being a little flip, but I don’t know how else to deal with this particular show. Every song has been rearranged, and not all in a good way. There are moments when actors, who are wearing body mics, grab hand-held or corded microphones, mostly so they can be heard over the band, I guess.
There are two scenes done in complete darkness, one between Curly and Jud, one between Laurey and Jud. In the first scene, a video operator pops in (you can only see him in silhouette) to get black-and-white close-ups of the two actors which are projected onto the back wall of the stage.
When the second act begins, the entr’acte music starts up with an electric guitar wailing bits of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” that would have made Jimi Hendrix proud. The stage is filled with smoke, and a dancer wearing a sparkly top with “Dream Baby Dream” written on it prances about the stage, doing some sort of interpretive movement. The program calls this “Dream Ballet,” just so you don’t get confused. Or more confused.
The set is simple: folding wooden chairs around picnic tables. And most of the time, many of the actors are just sitting at the tables, which is oddly disconcerting. For instance, a scene where Laurie is telling Curly that there’s “something wrong inside” Jud, while Jud is just sitting there, looking at them.
There was one bright spot. Sis (that’s the actor’s name) plays Ado Annie as a woman who can’t help but love men. Who does she like best? “Whichever one I’m with.” She thinks “I Cain’t Say No” almost like a torch song. Then she picks up a microphone and blows out the back walls of the theater. (That time, the double mic worked.) What a voice. And she provides some much-needed comic relief.
We can’t blame this one on the actors. They worked hard up there, doing what their director told them to do. And the report card on this “reinvented” “Oklahoma!” is disappointing to say the least.
“Oklahoma!” plays through Sunday, March 27 at the Providence Performing Arts Center. For tickets and information, call the box office at 401.421.ARTS or visit www.ppacri.org.