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Home > Arts > INTERVIEW: Eva Price on Producing <em>Oklahoma!</em> in New York and on the Road

INTERVIEW: Eva Price on Producing Oklahoma! in New York and on the Road

The recent revival cast of Oklahoma! on Broadway. A national tour branching off from this production performs at the Orphuem Theatre in Minneapolis, MN from November 9-14. Photo by Little Fang Photo.

On Tuesday, Oklahoma! comes to Minneapolis. It has been a long time since this adaptation of Lynn Riggs’ play Green Grow the Lilacs first opened on Broadway in 1943 in what is now the August Wilson Theatre. To say that the United States looks quite different would be a great understatement, but somehow Oklahoma! has retained its popularity and sense of currency. The national tour opening in a few days at the Orpheum Theatre is an offshoot of the show’s fifth Broadway production, which ran from 2019-2020 in a limited run.

While the original plan was for much of Oklahoma!‘s Broadway cast to head out directly on tour, the end date picked for their limited run – January 19, 2020 – turned out to be ominous. Two months later, a wave of shutdowns and lockdowns swept the country, putting plans on ice. One of the people working to bring back the tour (and reopen New York’s Broadway theatres) was lead producer Eva Price.

As identities go, Price has many of note: one of the small club of female Broadway producers, one of the much smaller club of female lead producers, a history in producing, and at one point being the only queer woman overseeing a show on Broadway. She’s also an industry leader, serving on the Broadway League’s Board of Governors – meaning that rescuing an industry and making sure it is done safely fell squarely in her planning purview.

Price spoke with the Arts Reader’s Basil Considine on Oklahoma! and bringing Broadway back.

Producer Eva Price was working for ABC News in her 20s when she decided to follow the dream and produce Broadway musicals. In the intervening years, she has produced more than 30 shows and several Tony Awards. She is one of the producers of the national tour of What the Constitution Means to Me and the lead producer for the national tour of Oklahoma!. Photo courtesy of Eva Price.

You’re a member of the Broadway League’s Board of Governors. The last year has been anything but business as usual; what have been some of the challenges and opportunities that you’ve engaged with through this body since the start of the pandemic?

I have been a member of the Broadway League’s Board of Governors for 6 years, and a League Member since 2010. I can safely say that the value, inspiration, and feeling of community the League created for its membership, leadership, and the industry these last 18 months, was beyond impressive and extraordinarily invaluable. We can safely say that Broadway was one of the most hard-hit industries in the country. We were the first to shut down and the last to re-open. We could not “approximate” what we do in a COVID-19 world; our entire existence is based on gathering, crowds, and the feeling of “live”. Literally, everything that makes us us was forbidden.

The League worked together to bring the entire industry forward during a crisis by helping to facilitate action relating to government support, audience development, marketing strategies, advocacy, equity/ diversity/inclusion, assistance for those in need, and so much more. I played a small role in the advancing of some of these endeavors by leading and participating in a couple of the committees (over 40 were formed), but it really was the hard-working staff and committee chairpeople that were both the heroes and tireless advocates for this work.

When and how did you first become engaged as a producer for Oklahoma!? What makes you the first producer in the credits?

I went to see Daniel Fish’s production of Oklahoma! at The Bard Summerscape in 2015. I would like to answer your question by saying I became engaged by intermission.

In all seriousness, I fell in love with this production instantly, and knew that I must bring it to a wider audience. I believe in the power of reimagining and excavating known source material, to tell a new story for today. I felt this production was doing this in a way I had never seen done before with a classic American musical. I had only seen it with Shakespeare. So, I set on a journey to option the rights to this production and put together a strategy to produce it on Broadway and beyond. That journey brought me to working with St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2018 to produce the production that transferred to Broadway in 2019 with several extraordinary partners.

I’m the show’s lead producer, which is how you see the credits listed as they are.

Many tours of classic Broadway shows get stripped down over the years – smaller and non-Equity casts, shrinking pit, etc. This touring production is an Equity production, though – what are some of the benefits from this ongoing investment?

We are so excited that our production of Oklahoma! is the first equity production of Oklahoma! in 40 years. As you may know, this Tony-winning production received 8 Tony Award nominations and a Grammy Nomination, for many for our originating company of actors. Some of our original company had been with the show since 2015, and these cast members had truly helped develop the vision and execution of what you see on stage today.

We have been so pleased and honored to continue the journey of this production, especially as it continues along a backdrop of a changing socio-political society. Being able to develop new work (even though this is an old production, it certainly feels anew) with a seasoned and experienced company of actors is a real gift for the creative team’s discoveries and their evolving process.

Now that the show has launched (or relaunched, post-COVID), what sorts of responsibilities do you have as a producer?

The responsibilities of being a Producer do not change in a post-COVID world, but your plate does get fuller, your anxiety level increases, and your to-do list expands. I am still responsible for the ticket sales, strategy, financial, marketing, and creative vision for the show. In pre-COVID times, I was also responsible for the human and cultural components of the workplace, which of course included creating a safe and healthy working environment. But the meaning of health and safety has taken on a whole new layer in a post-COVID, post-George Floyd world.

As the leaders of organizations, we need to recognize and understand the needs of our people, which can range from specific covid safety protocol requests, to needs and emotions around security in the face of danger, to supporting people’s physical and emotional strains in today’s post-pandemic world. I think we also have the responsibility to listen, to learn, and to adapt to an ever-evolving situation and environment for our company.

Rebecca Naomi Jones and Damon Daunno in the 2019 Broadway revival of Oklahoma!. Photo by Little Fang Photo.

The show FAQ notably mentions an affiliation with Gun Neutral. How did this affiliation first come about?

I’m so glad you asked that. One of my incredible partners, Level Forward (co-founded by Abigail Disney and Adrienne Becker, among other brilliant women who I’ve had the pleasure of working with these last few years) launched the Gun Neutral Initiative in 2018.  The goal of a gun-neutral production was not to eliminate the appearance of guns in storytelling, but rather to do something good while simultaneously depicting them.

For every visible gun on stage, or on film, a gun neutral production will donate money to causes that support victims of gun violence and contribute to the destruction of illegal guns in circulation. When Level Forward joined me as a Producing Partner on Oklahoma! they told me about their Gun Neutral initiative. I immediately joined them in their pursuits by making Oklahoma! the first gun-neutral production on Broadway and working with them to include this important social impact work into the show’s marketing strategy.

What is a favorite moment for you in this show, and why?

Oooh, that’s not fair. All of them! But if I had to choose, I’d say there’s a tie with two moments, one intense and raw, and the other fun and light.  There’s a scene near the end of the musical, where Aunt Eller takes control of the community reeling from an event; and does so in a surprising, probing, and unforgettable way. One of the many things Eller does in this scene, is she reminds the community (and us in the audience) that life can be hard, painful, and real. This moment always struck me to the core in the before times, but post Covid, this line speaks directly into my soul.

The other moment is the song “People Will Say We’re in Love”. I love this duet so much, especially in our production. It’s funny, romantic, sexy, and I think it’s one of the greatest musical duets ever written. And not for nothing, our cast simply kills it with their charm, their vocal chops, and their incredible stage presence. The lighting and staging of this scene are also terrific. I love watching these two protagonists figure out who they really are through this number.

Damon Daunno in the 2019 Broadway revival of Oklahoma!. Photo by Little Fang Photo.

You’ve worked in television, produced theatre, and even executive produced the cast album for the recent Oklahoma! Broadway production. You’ve also done some work with content for BroadwayHD. Historically, many theatre content creators have worried that online streaming would compete with live theatre for butts in seats. How do you see the two co-existing as we move forward?

This is the post-COVID question on everyone’s minds and I think the truth is, we don’t have the answers yet. I would really like to see a world where online streaming and live theatre can co-exist and help grow each other’s audiences. I think for some properties, it’s very possible that a streaming audience can support in person audience and vice versa. I even think there are properties which could be most successful in a hybrid format, with some of the audience in person and some at home.  I would love to see data that can tell us if streaming can seed the marketplace for a successful in person show, and vice versa.

I think it is simply too early to make any grand conclusions as to what is most hurtful or helpful in this matter. We do know there is data that says streaming content can support the success of in-person content, both in Comedy, Theater, and in Music. So I’m very optimistic.

Damon Daunno and Mary Testa in the 2019 Broadway revival of Oklahoma!. Photo by Little Fang Photo.

The national tour of Okalhoma! plays at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN from November 9-14. COVID-19 safety protocols requiring proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result are in place.

Basil Considine