It took twelve years of development for director Daniel Fish's new production of Oklahoma! to reach Broadway — and now that it's here, it feels as if modern musical theater will be forever changed by the revolutionary take on the quintessential Rodgers & Hammerstein musical (now nominated for eight Tony awards, including best revival of a musical).
In the intimate production playing at New York's Circle in the Square Theater, the 1943 show — considered the first modern musical — feels newly contemporary, thanks to inventive new orchestrations, staging and acting that illuminate the timeless, and timely, themes of the story. On this week's episode of the Billboard on Broadway podcast, orchestrator/arranger/musical supervisor Daniel Kluger is joined by actors Patrick Vaill (Jud Fry) and Rebecca Naomi Jones (Laurey Williams) for an in-depth discussion of what makes this an Oklahoma! for today.
"I like to say it's not stripped down - it's stripped bare," says Vaill of the production's refreshing approach. "And the text and score withstand this scrutiny really beautifully." For Jones, one of the great achievements of Fish's direction is "teasing out what the women want and what the women feel" in a show that, through text alone, provides much more material for the men. "Daniel has done a masterful job of making sure we women get our focus."
Kluger's new approach to the classic score transformed not only the production's music, but the actors' characterizations as well. "From the beginning, it wanted to feel like a band, that was really different from the typical ways you'd think of a Broadway sound," says Kluger. "The [Rodgers & Hammerstein] estate was excited about the idea of featuring a banjo, or a harmonica. We had a pretty simpatico approach from the beginning."
As Kluger explains, "style emerges from the function of the song dramatically," and both Vaill and Jones delve into how that affected their approaches onstage. "So many of these old songs are classics because they are bulletproof -- they're so well written, so clever, so direct, and yet they're layered just enough," Jones explains. "It feels like such a gift to be able to go back and parse through some of these songs and realize how much they have to give us, and to educate us with."
In their chat with host Rebecca Milzoff, the trio go on to discuss pivotal moments in the show, reconceiving archetypal characters, and much more.
#BillboardonBroadway is a weekly podcast devoted to all things musical theater and their overlap with pop music. Click here to subscribe to the #BillboardonBroadway podcast on iTunes, and let us know what you think on Twitter (@rebeccamilzoff) or by rating the podcast on iTunes.