What if the "girl who cain't say no" literally cain't say no?
It's a distinct possibility in Daniel Fish's revelatory "Oklahoma!," launching its national tour at the Orpheum Theatre through Sunday. Set about 115 years ago, with the territory on the verge of statehood, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical takes place when men were men and consent was not a thing they cared about.
It's not even clear if Ado Annie, the aforementioned "girl," hears what's she implying when she sings, "I hear a lot of stories, and I reckon they are true, about how girls are put upon by men." That's not subtext. It's text.
Annie (played by Sis, a transgender actor) is usually depicted as a carefree good-time gal who flirts a lot. But this crude-oil-dark "Oklahoma!" indicates that none of the show's women controls her destiny in a lawless territory ruled by ruthless men. ("Oklahoma!" is set less than 15 years before the murders of Osage Indians described in the bestselling "Killers of the Flower Moon" as well as the Tulsa Race Massacre.)
Once you see Fish's take, it's hard to imagine any other "Oklahoma!" This is, after all, a show that has always included: women being bid on at a picnic basket auction where the hijinks can't mask the stricken look on the auction items' faces; a town conspiring to cover up a murder, and a crude father outright selling his daughter.
Fish explores all of that unpleasantness in this production, which has been rejiggered from the intimate Broadway staging and loses some danger and energy in the vast Orpheum.
There's not much pageantry or dancing. Some scenes take place in the dark. It's suggested that the men who bicker over leading character Laurey are more into each other than her. And the second act opens with a lengthy, distorted guitar that accompanies modern dancer Gabrielle Hamilton, whose athletic movement conveys the anger and need Laurey cannot express.
The cast acts with a flat affect, as if their characters are doomed to play out lives they have little control over. With more than 100 guns covering the walls of the simple set — benches and chairs that could be at a barn dance or in a rehearsal room — Fish indicates that the threat of violence looms over everyone.
That's especially true of Sasha Hutchings' Laurey, who may not love either suitor: sweet-natured Curly (Sean Grandillo) or mercurial Jud, played by Christopher Bannow as if he's an ancestor of Anthony Perkins' "Psycho" character.
The music, too, is spare. Performed by a bluegrass combo rather than an orchestra, the arrangements encourage us to ask what's really going on in the lyrics. That's why Hutchings leans into the harsher edges of her voice on songs such as "Many a New Day"; not the trilling soprano of most Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, her Laurey has known pain.
All the original songs are here, even if their meanings have shifted. Sis brings gospel runs to her showstopping "I Cain't Say No," the comedy is drained from the creepy "Pore Jud Is Dead" and even the jubilant finale is punctuated with wails that remind us a tragedy has just occurred.
The characters may date to the early 1900s but, as in "Hamilton," the actors' gender expression, ethnicity and varying body types speak to today. Fish's jarringly modern production reminds us that humans routinely mistreat other marginalized humans, regardless of the era.
Remarkably, all of this is accomplished without altering the 1943 musical. Fish simply dug deeper to reveal what was there all along, waiting to be discovered.
Who: By Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Directed by Daniel Fish.
When: 8 p.m. Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sun.
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
Protocol: COVID-19 vaccine or negative test within three days. Masks required.
Tickets: $40-$139, 1-800-982-2787 or hennepintheatretrust.org.