Interview: Sasha Hutchings from OKLAHOMA!

What it means to perform this classic musical from a 21st century perspective.

Sasha Hutchings, Sean Grandillo and Christopher Bannow in the national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! - Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade. (Evan Zimmerman, 2022)

DETROIT – A reimagined version of Rodger & Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! is coming to Detroit and it might look a little different from the bright and cheery musical it’s known for. In fact, it might not even feel like it. That’s the point.

Daniel Fish’s Tony Award-winning production of OKLAHOMA! takes the same text and songs intact but is interpreted through a modern-day lens. Featuring a stripped-down band visible on-stage and guns plastered on the walls, this version takes a look at some of the shows hidden and darker values.

Sasha Hutchings is no stranger to the production. She was a standby for three of the characters when the show played on Broadway, including Laurey, who she now plays full-time on tour. Hutchings can also be seen on Disney+ in Hamilton. She sat down with us to talk about taking this controversial show on the road.

People have seen OKLAHOMA! in so many different forms, what should Detroiters expect from this version?

This is a very disruptive OKLAHOMA! You should expect something real, something raw that may feel disorienting at times. We start the show very differently with full lights and the house lights up. We’re all lit and everyone’s on stage, we rarely leave. But it’s still in the spirit of the show to disrupt what you expect to see and how we’re telling the story about something that is an American classic. I think you should expect to feel lots of different things, a lot of laughter and a lot of joy, and a bit of discomfort like anger and pain. We dig into all of these raw emotions. Detroit is a city full of very rich and complex history. It’s a center of creation, protest and disruption, as well as wealth, money, production and entrepreneurship. We hold all of those things together and I have a lot of faith that Detroit audiences will be able to sit with us in a very unique way.

What was it like transforming the show from Broadway to a tour?

Well, the biggest thing was taking this world where we were surrounded by the audience and making sure that the audience recognizes that we are very much in the room with you. There’s a lot of moments where we take longer beats and breaths to literally look at the audience and make eye contact with people. So if you’re sitting in the orchestra and you feel somebody staring into your eyes, we are definitely going to connect.

Sasha Hutchings and Sean Grandillo in the national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! - Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade. (2022)

What are some of the nuances and revelations you had from this new interpretation of the text?

It’s about listening. Not a word has changed, the music isn’t any different, but what does that illuminate when we hear it differently now? There are moments of complete darkness on stage and it makes a revelation about how intentionally are we actually listening to each other from day to day. For this show, some will find it upsetting that we changed things or that this isn’t the spirit of it. I, on the other hand, feel like we’ve been taking things for granted. Yeah, we didn’t notice it before but now we get a chance to appreciate it on a whole other level.

You’ve seen the reactions on Broadway, how does it compare with audiences around the country?

It’s different everywhere, and we have varied audiences on Broadway as well. I would rather have mixed and honest, like visceral, reactions. We should be engaging in theater that way. I think you come to experience theater, to feel something, to learn something. It’s representative of the community itself. It’s a conversation between us and each locality.

If we have a really packed house on a Friday night, that’s different than the energy of a Saturday matinee. That’s just what it is and we roll with it. But I care a lot about our audience, I really do. When I step on that stage, I’m letting them know that I’m responding to them and that they’re part of the show. You can say you hated it, you can say you loved it, but you’ll know that I was there with you and I gave you my best.

What are some of the challenges of touring a show during a pandemic?

We’re on a plane almost every week, so there are a lot of things to navigate like testing kits, uploading tests, and all of these things. We have a COVID safety manager which is a full-time position on this tour that is dedicated to navigating these things like keeping our protocols up-to-date wherever we are. And we’ve had a brilliant run, we haven’t had to cancel one show, even through January which was really tough with the new variant. It’s tough and at times I think, “Do we have enough people to do the show? What happens if we don’t?” It’s a challenge to shift every week, but it also makes me lock into my cast and crew. We’re holding each other together, we’ll get to know this new space together and then we’ll pack up and do it again.

Sean Grandillo, Sasha Hutchings and the company of the national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! - Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade. (2022)

What is your favorite part of touring?

Eating food everywhere. Every place has their local thing and I got to get some Detroit pizza. Just finding places that people are proud of in their city. I love visiting museums. I visited the Charles Wright museum yesterday and was deeply impacted by the work that people do in black history and culture in this city.

What are you most excited about coming to Detroit?

Oh man, it’s Motor City and there’s an energy here. We’ve had a couple days off so I’ve been able to venture out and get to know the city and it’s just beautiful. The architecture is beautiful, I’ve had great food and connected with a people over dinner. It’s just nice to really connect to the city a little deeper. The weather’s been pretty nice. I’ve gotten everything from today’s sunny day to snowy. Detroit in all her colors, I love it.

OKLAHOMA! plays at the Fox Theatre from Friday, February 25th through Sunday, February 27th. The show is recommended for ages 12+. Tickets are available at 313Presents.com.


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