Chicken-Fried News: Modern-day Oklahoma! 

  • Ingvard Ashby

After decades of being defined to outsiders by the whitewashed original Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma! is getting modern-day trappings on a new television series as a reimagined version takes its turn on Broadway.

Skydance Media announced last week that it reached an agreement with Oklahoma! rights holders to produce a modern-day show with new music run by executive producer John Lee Hancock, writer and director of The Blind Side, but don’t expect Sandra Bullock in the role of Ado Annie.

“This first-ever television series will expand on the life of this remarkably resilient show,” said a spokesman from the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization in a Variety story about the production.

The announcement of the television series arrived days after Daniel Fish’s stripped-down version of the play earned a “smashing” review from The New York Times for its Broadway revival.

In Fish’s production, an orchestra is replaced by a seven-member string band on-stage, and lavish costumes have been replaced with lots of denim. Fully stocked gun racks line the walls as front-row audience members sit at wooden tables with fresh bowls of chili, right in the middle of all of the action.

The original Rodgers & Hammerstein production was groundbreaking during its 1943 debut for its use of the dream ballet, which didn’t just treat dance as filler; it advanced the plot of the story. The original’s chorus line has been replaced by a single barefoot dancer — a bald black woman — that is about “making a dance about outsiders that brings to mind issues of race, inequality and the treatment of women,” according to the Times.

Finally, Oklahoma! is a set piece for modern dance that is an “expressionist explosion,” that better reflects the reality of the state, and we hope it’s only a matter of time before Fish’s version makes its way to the heartland.

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