For many musical fans, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration, Oklahoma!, is one of the most influential American musicals ever made. When it opened on Broadway in 1943 it was revolutionary for its blending of song, plot and character — and is now considered a masterpiece. But anything can become hackneyed and corny with age. So that’s why when director Daniel Fish radically reimagined revival of the classic — his attempt to expose the repression, lust, and violence that always lay beneath the surface of this seminal work — fans and critics were ecstatic. It opened last fall at St. Ann’s Warehouse and now transfers to Broadway, beginning previews March 19th at Circle in the Square (adjacent to Wicked).
Fish has left Hammerstein’s original script fully intact, and orchestrator Daniel Kluger left the score’s underlying musical arrangements in place, while changing the instrumentation so that now it’s a seven-piece band performing instead of a full orchestra accompaniment.
“The counterpoint and the harmonic structure of those songs are what gives them their emotional and dramatic impact,” Kluger told Playbill. “I see it sort of as a sweater that I don’t want to pull apart.”
As an example of how that plays out in this reclamation, we have an exclusive look at Ali Stroker performing Ado Annie’s unforgettable (and politically complicated) showstopper, “Cain’t Say No,” about her feelings of being caught in a love triangle. Stroker, who was the first wheelchair-bound actress in a Broadway musical when she made her debut in 2015’s astounding Spring Awakening revival, is incredible, her charisma and powerhouse voice shining through. Although some may still take issue with the scenario and storyline, Stroker sees it as a song of empowerment.
“Getting this opportunity to play Ado Annie on Broadway in 2019 is a thrill,” Stroker tells Rolling Stone. “This song is her anthem: saying YES to life. She does not apologize for who she is. Ado Annie is curious, and wants to explore herself through relationships and sex. Singing this song every night reminds me to always be true to who I am.”