OK! (a repost from another website)

Sandy Sahar Gooen
6 min readAug 6, 2020

by Sandy Sahar Gooen

A cast album analysis of the Tony-Winning revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, colloquially coined also by Natalie Walker as Oklaheauxma.

First, to give credit where credit is due:

Music People involved-

I know this score intimately because I was Sylvie (not a character in this stripped-down version, which, ok, FINE, but I need you to believe me she was a real character, and I got to sing in the OG “Many a New Day,” “Out of My Dreams,” and “Oklahoma!” arrangements. The vocal arrangements were pared down for this cast and also made to fit their ranges. It worked- I’m not really going to get too into the vocal arrangements themselves.

My intrigue in this production, however, comes mainly from the sound world built by the orchestrations.

First, friends, this is what orchestration and instrumentation mean. They are both types of arrangement.

Instrumentation is the part you give to an instrument and how you voice it; Orchestration is how those things fit together, the number of instruments, the qualities you give to those instruments, the style, etc.

Let’s go track by track on why this show BLEW ME AWAY orchestration wise.

Track 1- “Oh What A Beautiful Mornin’”: As always, we start with Curly a cappella, but here’s the change. The entire cast joins his second line. That sets up the dramatic device that will come up later… Greek chorus vibes. Mandolin sharing ideas and gestures with the bowed string instruments. I’m already dead. It’s song 1. Closing this one out with the first appearance of Mr. Daunno’s falsetto alongside Ms. Testa’s BELT. Power move.

Track 2- “Laurey’s Entrance”: few things here, it’s a 37-second track. 1. The alto Laurey is 2019 saying “Laurey Williams did not need saving by some guy then and she sure as hell doesn’t now.” 2. crispest violin cutoff I have ever heard. And lastly, not on the track, which is sad for those who won’t catch this live, but I’ll tell you, Ms. Jones’ “I thought you were somebody” is beautifully lethal.

Track 3- “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”: Folksy Rockstar Curly sets the tone for his character in Track 1 and here’s where he cements it, and his pal, the banjo really emphasizes the folk element. The bass and mandolin also get major props especially from 3:08 onward. Also, the onomatopoeic falsetto-placed kerplop alone could’ve got him the Tony nom.

Track 4- “Kansas City”: Well, hi, Mr. Davis. Nice to meet your voice. The pedal steel guitar is his costar in this song. It puts the up-to-date energy behind him. The climactic moment in this one is the string build to the last refrain.

Track 5- “I Cain’t Say No”: So it would appear there are TWO rockstars in this production. Get out of her way, it’s Ali Stroker. Side note, if she doesn’t star in 9 to 5, you’re all very missing the point! I used the word folk for Mr. Daunno, and it’s because Ms. Stroker gives more traditional country Dolly energy. She won the Tony for a REASON.

Track 6- “Many a New Day”: Traditionally balletic, this number has more bite now. If these ladies put out a full album of just them, I’d bite. And again the mandolin is always gonna be a good time.

Track 7- “It’s a Scandal! It’s a Outrage”: I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge Will Brill opted out of the racist accent and I love him for that. Now onto the music, making this song fit the same aesthetic as the rest of this production has a shoot-em-up silent film in the strings, especially the twang of the acoustic guitar and intense plucking/strumming in contrast with other bowed strings, and I’m so down.

Track 8- “People Will Say We’re In Love”: This song is its own journey. It’s a gentle traditional ballad, followed by an intimate rockabilly serenade. Sliding pedal steel guitar coming in clutch once again.

Track 9- “Pore Jud is Daid”: Homoeroticism aside. I know. Hard for me to say. This is the true tall tale spooky campfire guitar moment of my dreams and nightmares. But it’s also got really well-timed ghostly echoes (see I told you I’d get to the sound design) and also, of course, the harmonics. Strings can be manipulated to sound above the octave. What a cool ghost noise. This is peak instrumentation, not orchestration (one instrument alone doing so much) but I must know: did Mr. Kluger or Mr. Daunno bless us with that particular guitar part?!? Gotta know who to thank. Someone confirm, please. *EDIT*: Confirmed that Damon Daunno is that guy.

Track 10- “Lonely Room”: Mr. Vaill’s Jud makes me jump back a foot every time I hear him do anything. It’s fully a song but feels clear like a monologue, which is what the score demands. The bowing on this is so violent it could be out of a horror movie. There’s tremolo and sul tasto all over the dang place, among other neat uses of technique. For those who don’t speak string, that means a very shaky, ominously narrow sound.

Track 11- “Out of My Dreams”: The opposite of the song prior. Very broad strings that wash over the listener. And the tight harmonies one might hear on the radio. Unlike the original, nearly the whole cast sings, but the main trio of women is still centered vocally. And Ms. Jones ends Act I with another lowered a cappella Alto Laurey moment ™.

Track 12- “Dream Ballet”: Act II. Not your Grandparents’ Oklahoma. This is pure AMERICANA ROCK DISTORTED TRIPPY DREAM Oklahoma. Guitar pedals in full effect. But it’s still the dream ballet because there’s ballet and a dream and bits and pieces of different songs we’ve heard so far. You know, there hasn’t been much percussion so far… OH WAIT. Basically there are parts of this track that necessitate all caps.

Track 13- “The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends”: This has changed the least of all of the songs. It’s just got more emphasis on banjo and mandolin. I’m not mad about it. Ms. Stroker and Ms. Testa both steal this scene.

Track 14- “All Er Nuthin”: The recording kind of makes it less rough than it was live. But I like the roughness. It’s a very cute romantic standoff. A lot of accordion and mandolin.

Track 15- “People Will Say We’re in Love (Reprise): Very similar to the first time only breathier and a very clean gentle string section featuring a steady pedal steel guitar and banjo.

Track 16- “Oklahoma!” : Happens twice onstage and both are bops. This song is a bop. That bass/cello really dig in. And the plucked strings including Mr. Daunno groove like it’s a dance party. And hey, it kind of is! Kind of. The spooky screamy second “Oklahoma!” Is also a bop it’s just more haunting. And those tight trio harmonies come back on the second entrance of the main refrain and hit me right in the heart. The strum pattern on YIIIII is energized and the rest of the number from there is like being with your camp friends and reuniting to sing your favorite song at a sleepover. Very full and proud.

And that is all I got for this one.

Wait, before I go- something obvious you’d expect from a trans person who’s fairly green: I’m gonna call it out. the gender ratio in the pit is better than most, but the leadership is white men. If you look at the director/choreographer/etc too, you’ll see it across the board. Diversity must go all the way up, to paraphrase this year’s Best Director winner, Rachel Chavkin. Though it’s nice to have representation of women and/or POC in a cast or even in the band, it’s a little empty if they’re not behind the desk, too. (Not even addressing trans people, we’re barely even onstage yet, if at all). I will continue to put this in my analyses.