You’re unlikely to find too many complaints about the current Broadway revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” which recently won the Tony for Best Musical Revival and is playing to sellout crowds at Lincoln Center Theater.
Although director Bartlett Sher adds an insightful eye and emphasizes the characters’ psychological complexities, it is a traditionally-staged production with a large cast and orchestra, just like his similarly acclaimed revival of R&H’s “South Pacific.”
Outside the city at Bard College’s annual SummerScape festival in upstate New York, experimental director Daniel Fish is taking the opposite kind of approach to “Oklahoma!,” the first major R&H work, which inaugurated a golden age of musical theater in which songs and choreography served plot and character.
Fish has radically reconceived and scaled down “Oklahoma!” in ways that make it both folksier and darker.
The mood is relaxed and casual. The audience is seated at communal tables along an intimate rectangular space, with the 10-member cast performing around them. Chili and cornbread are served at intermission, as if to invite us to join their community.
The songs have been reorchestrated for a six-piece bluegrass band, and the modern country sound suits the score quite nicely.
The performers (the best known being Mary Testa as Aunt Eller) give toned-down, believable performances. Patrick Vaill is unusually sympathetic and vulnerable as the traditionally villainous Jud.
Some of the directorial touches — like removing virtually all movement from the famous “Dream Ballet,” performing a long scene in total darkness, using live video footage and changing how a major character dies — are strange, questionable and likely to spark fierce debate.
This is far from the definitive “Oklahoma!,” but it is an intriguing and fresh “Oklahoma!” With some more development, it’s not hard to imagine it attracting a bigger audience.
If you go: “Oklahoma!” plays through July 19 at Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College in Annadale-on-Hudson. Fishercenter.bard.edu.