Discussing the Rodgers & Hammerstein Play with Lead Actress Sasha Hutchings

1. Sasha Hutchings in the National Tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘Oklahoma!.’ (creds: Matt Murphy)

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “OKLAHOMA”, directed by Daniel Fish, is currently showing at the Ahmanson Theatre until October 16, 2022.

This is a rendition of “OKLAHOMA!” that you’ve never seen before, reimagined for a twenty-first century audience, and is now the Tony Award winner for Best Revival of a Musical. Funny and sexy, provocative, and probing, this acclaimed production of “OKLAHOMA!” tells the story of a community banding together against an outsider, and the frontier life that shaped America.

In an interview with Sasha Hutchings, who plays the female lead, Laurey Williams, she discussed the play, working with the cast, as well as the brilliance of this play’s remodel in today’s times.

Set in Oklahoma in 1907, Hutchings described Laurey as “coming of age” in the play. Laurey is a frontier woman who lives with her Aunt Ella, and the two run their own farm. A farmhand, Judd, and a cowboy, Curly, are both competing for her heart. The play shows a number of characters, going through different situations as they try to plan and find dates for the main event—The Box Social.

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“What you have in this story is a bit more focus on the dynamics of a community,” explained Hutchings. “The big question of our show is, what is an outsider? And does a community need an outsider to exists? Do we have to create someone that’s an other—who is not part of the group to identify ourselves in a group?”

Throughout the show, the audience will see what each character is willing to do to maintain as a member of their group, or community—some even to the point of violence or death. The show brings light to the dark undertones of socialism, bringing to light the underbelly of “OKLAHOMA!”, which is usually told in a more playful way.

This rendition of the play brings fun new experiences to it’s audiences, like a seven-piece bluegrass band instead of a full orchestra, which Hutchings described as “incredible to watch.”

“I think what stands out to me [the most] is that the people on stage look like people you’d run into in your own neighborhood, or community, or church benefit. [The play] gives a natural feel of people who exist together.”

The actress continued, “There’s a familiarity, I think, that allows you to pull out details of this story that you might miss when you’re seeing a big lavish production with a full orchestra and a huge dancing ensemble. This is very much about individual people, and their specific relationships with each other. I like to call it, ‘Oklahoma Deconstructed’, like a deconstructed PB and J. It’s about what you remember, not the way you remember it.”

In the play, Hutchings’ character Laurey faces the hard question of can this community/world hold my desire?

2. L-R: Sasha Hutchings and Sean Grandillo in the National Tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘Oklahoma!.’ (creds: Matt Murphy)

“She’s a woman understanding what is for her, and that maybe she’s up against the world—which is a very hard lesson. I think she starts off with this mindset of ‘today I’m gonna go for it’, and then by the end of the show, you kind of see what works and what doesn’t, and what the community can hold and what it can’t.”

Hutchings went onto discuss Laurey’s relationship with Judd in the play, which is new in this rendition.

“She understands that [Judd] is an outsider, but also understands that she’s drawn to him. And so there’s this pushing a boundary that you with her, like, I want to go and try this, I want to lean into this option, and how it sort of reverberates within the community that she’s just making this choice that isn’t the obvious choice for her. But when she starts to choose something that’s not that, you see the tension build,” said Hutchings.

The actress originally understudied the role of Laurey on Broadway. However, she was able to use her own experiences to identify and lean into the role of Laurey, stating, “as a woman, as you come of age…and age…and age, you start to understand the limits of society in this culture. And when you’re existing in your own body, you assume that whatever you desire, there’s a pathway to explore that. But, I think as an adult and especially as a woman, especially as a Black woman, you start to understand that may not be true.”

While on this tour, Hutchings found that she had a lot more liberty to create her own version of this character. She stated that a big focus she wanted Laurey to have was unapologetically moving forward.

“We haven’t changed a word of the show, and I spent a lot of time just listening to her. Really reading the words and listening to the questions she asks, and she asks a lot of questions, especially in her songs. So, I tried to track her thought process, and I try to be very honest and sincere with those things.”

Plan for a surprise, said the actress, when going to see “OKLAHOMA!”. It’s a new version of an old-time classic, and Sasha Hutchings is always intrigued to see what the audience thinks.

“We should see unexpected things, form strong opinions about them, and share that with other people. That’s what theater is for. That’s what it’s about. So, take it in and form an opinion and share it. I’m excited about that, and I’m excited for people to see things that are super familiar, and that they loved and were hoping to see from previous shows, but see it in a different way with a different lens, and then maybe to just, you know, experience something about the show that they never knew was there.”

Tickets for “OKLAHOMA!” can be bought at https://www.centertheatregroup.org/tickets/. You can also keep up to date on Sasha Hutchings on Instagram (@sashahutchings).