"Oklahoma!" has been gracing American stages for years, and few are immune to the catchy title song that has a tendency to infiltrate one’s brain and leave them humming "where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain" long after leaving the theater.
Ever since first hitting the stage in 1943, "Oklahoma!" has seen great success, enjoying long runs on Broadway, national tours, and many school and community productions. Because of this success, many consider "Oklahoma!" to be one of the most well known shows of all time, and people all around the world have either seen the show, heard the music or have taken part in one of its various productions.
With its infectious song-and-dance numbers and its classic storyline, "Oklahoma!" has been captivating audiences for decades. ISU Theatre hopes to continue this tradition with their production of "Oklahoma!" that will run in Fisher Theater from April 5 to April 8.
“The musical overall follows Curly and Laurey as they try to figure out a way for them to express their love to one another,” said Lincoln Klopfenstein, sophomore in music who plays Will Parker. “Living in the frontier of America, there are a lot more struggles to face everyday.”
In spite of its well known plot and characters, the cast and crew of Iowa State’s production are hoping to give "Oklahoma!" a modern spin that will allow it to relate more to today’s audiences, while still maintaining the heart of the show that many know and love.
“It’s been really cool to take such an old, classic musical and look at how we can apply it to today,” Klopfenstein said. “We can take something that is so old, but still has such common themes and motifs, and we can transfer that into everything we face today in the new world. We still have the same struggles, even if they aren’t surface level the same.”
One way that the cast and crew have implemented this modern twist is by changing the intentions and personalities of their characters and the way that audiences often perceive them.
During the first few weeks of rehearsal, the entire cast took time to do a deep analysis of all of the characters in the show and discuss how they could approach them from a different angle.
“This show definitely brings a modern spin to the classic show, especially surrounding the character of Ado Annie. She is usually played off as a flounce, as a flirt, but we’re kind of taking more of the route of women empowerment,” Klopfenstein said.
"Usually she’s seen as kind of dumb, doesn’t know that all the boys like her … but in this version how we’re playing it off is Ado Annie knows exactly what she wants … We’re trying to portray women empowerment and where I only have one gun, Ado [Annie] has two guns ... so there’s a lot of little things that you can pick up on,” Klopfenstein said.
Morgan Darrow, senior in music who plays the role of Laurey, is also planning on putting more of a modern spin on her character, and claims that taking on such a well known role has been both difficult and fulfilling.
“My director and I spoke a lot about how Laurey is usually portrayed as a fragile girly-girl who is usually seen as a victim and easily manipulated by men in the show,” Darrow said. “We decided to take this character in a different direction and make Laurey a hard working, strong, farm woman who refuses to be a victim.”
Darrow believes that this change more accurately portrays the women of today, while also staying true to the original character.
“We thought this would make her character a lot more relevant to today, especially with the ‘Me Too’ movement,” Darrow said.
Not only has the cast of "Oklahoma!" tried to approach their female characters in a new way, but they have also taken time to look at some of their male characters as well.
“We, as a cast, analyzed how Judd, who is seen as more of the dark, kind of angry, misunderstood character, actually has a lot of a deeper side to him,” Klopfenstein said. “We starting touching on aspects of mental illness and how back in those days maybe he just wasn’t understood because there wasn’t the capability of educating someone who had a harder time learning.”
“We talked about so many of the themes that we could dive into with our individual characters … and for my character it’s more about getting the chance to enjoy life … and inspire people,” Klopfenstein said. “It’s a way to look at how you can make a change in other people’s lives. Not by being serious, but by having fun and bringing joy.”
The director of the show, Brad Dell, has been the driving force behind this new portrayal of the famous story and claims that it is important that theatre continues to portray the issues of today’s society.
“When approaching all classic pieces of theatre, we cannot simply place this show on a pedestal … we tear it open and wrestle with it, and investigate how the play speaks to our world today,” Dell said.
Dell’s intention is to “dig even deeper and ask tough questions which challenge 'Oklahoma!' to inspire us in new ways.”
Klopfenstein believes that the changes that the cast and crew have made to this timeless musical will allow it to entertain older generations in the way that it has done for years, while also speaking to younger generations and giving "Oklahoma!" a new breath of life.
“No matter what age you are, where you’re at in life, I think that this show has so much depth to it, you’re going to be able to take something away," Klopfenstein. "No matter what gender, what age, you’ll be able to come in and walk out with a different mindset."