Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My "Oklahoma!" Director's Note

This is my Director's note for the production program for "Oklahoma!" I'm directing at Huntington Playhouse this Summer:

“There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow…”

How we take these lyrics - the first ever submitted to Richard Rodgers by his new Lyricist partner Oscar Hammerstein II - for granted! But the pure artistry in these and so many other lyrics and melodies from Rodgers and Hammerstein cannot be denied. The images those 8 words immediately conjure are indelible and undeniable. And therein lies the joy and the challenge of Directing this great American classic.

I am so glad to have had this opportunity to Direct "Oklahoma!" It really is one of those shows that just feels right, like an ice cold beer on a hot Summer day. It really is true that the more things change the more they stay the same and here we are again - just as we were when Oklahoma opened on Broadway in 1943 - in challenging, troubling times. And just as it did then, this first collaboration between Rodgers and Hammerstein comforts audiences and reminds us of the sheer joy and pride of being home, making a home and coming home to America.

But as is the case for every theater producing a classic play or musical, the challenge is to breathe some new life into the piece while remaining true to what people love about it. Every comfortable, old home needs a fresh coat of paint once in a while. Or, in the case of Oklahoma!, in my opinion, it needs its usually bright, shiny coat of paint weathered and aged a bit. Green Grow the Lilacs, the Lynn Riggs 1931 play on which Oklahoma! Is based takes place in 1900 – less than a decade before Oklahoma even became a state – in what was known as “The Indian Territory”. This was land set aside for Native American tribes forcefully relocated there by the government on The Trail of Tears, but soon the government opened the territory up to white settlement as well. And it is those new settlers that are the heroes of ”Oklahoma!”. These people would have been unglamorous, hearty people of the Earth, trying to settle in a somewhat hostile environment. I have never subscribed to the usual portrayal of these characters as fresh-faced cowboys and cowgirls in clean prairie dresses and matching, multi-colored kerchiefs. I have also never understood why there was never any mention of Native Americans in any of the Oklahoma text or the play on which it was based. Certainly Indian tribes had a strong presence in the area (as did African-Americans) and would have had some influence over the culture of the land and its new white inhabitants. They certainly have with this production and so wisps of Native American memories sometimes float throughout this production along side the lovable – if not so freshly scrubbed – characters and gorgeous music we have all loved for so long. I hope you like it.

My thanks as always to Tom and everyone at Huntington. And to the incredible cast and crew – especially my partners Kira Seaton, Alex Tepe, David Glowe and Keith Stevens, thank you from the bottom of my heart. What a clambake! I love you all. But most importantly I send my love and gratitude to my wife Lisa and my Daughters Mikey and Bailey. I Love you as big as the sky!

1 comment:

Braedy Photography said...

Good director's note Geoff! I think a lot of people forget the historical context of the Native Americans during that time, so it's nice you're considering that. Good luck with the production!