5th Ave Theater Gives 'Oklahoma!' an Update

Armed with a fresh take on the story's historical context and Donald Byrd's choreography, this produ
Brangien Davis  |   February 2012   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

The title song from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical Oklahoma! conjures up images of cowboy hats, chaps and ruffled prairie skirts sweeping down the plain. That’s because, over time and countless community theater productions, the classic musical comedy has warped into a caricature of itself, with broad characters and hokey sets.

But for its new production, The 5th Avenue Theatre started with a clean slate. “We looked closely at the script and asked, ‘What did the authors intend?’” says producing director Bill Berry.

They found fully nuanced characters, and also noted that during the time period, the Oklahoma territory had more free slaves than any other place in the US. Accordingly, The 5th’s production features African Americans cast in roles that traditionally have been played by caucasians, plus refreshed costumes and sets, and entirely new numbers choreographed by Seattle dance icon Donald Byrd and performed by his Spectrum Dance Theater (seen above in rehearsal).

“It’s very much Oklahoma!,” clarifies Berry, “but with a fresh look and feel.” We cain’t say no to that.

2/3–3/4. Times and prices vary. The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave.; 206.625.1900; 5thavenue.org

 

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