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Broadway Q&A: Rebecca Naomi Jones of ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

The ‘Oklahoma!’ star shares her path to the unconventional revival

Rebecca Naomi Jones plays Laurey in the current Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Directed by Daniel Fish, this pared-down and riveting revival of the classic musical is probably unlike any Oklahoma! you have seen or heard before. The production took home the 2019 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Jones as joins Damon Daunno as Curly, Mary Testa as Aunt Eller, Patrick Vaill as Jud Fry, Ali Stroker as Ado Annie, James Davis as Will Parker, Will Brill as Ali Hakim, Mitch Tebo as Andrew Carnes, Mallory Portnoy as Gerti Cummings, Anthony Cason as Cord and Will Mann as Mike. Rebecca’s other credits includes Significant Other, Hedwig and The Angry Inch, American Idiot, Passing Strange, Big Love, Murder Ballad, Fire In Dreamland, The Fortress of Solitude, The Big Sick and Inside Amy Schumer

Rebecca Naomi Jones as Laurey in 'Oklahoma!' on Broadway (Photo: Little Fang Photo)

Rebecca Naomi Jones as Laurey in 'Oklahoma!' on Broadway (Photo: Little Fang Photo)

What went through your mind when you heard about this production of Oklahoma!?
Rebecca Naomi Jones: I was in Los Angeles and got an email from my agent saying, “We know you are out of town for this audition. But the director is going to be in LA in a couple of weeks and would like to see you.” I thought, Oklahoma!? Nobody is going to cast me in Oklahoma! I say that because, unfortunately, people have such a narrow view of who we put in what. I don’t say that because of the way I look or my race. I’m saying this because I have been in enough contemporary and rock musicals that people just think, “She's edgy. Period.”

I prefer to do a piece that takes an honest, new, fresh look at the truth of any given story. But I am a conservatory-trained actor. My job is to be able to find a way to get into any kind of character. Of course, the funny thing is, we’re not doing the traditional version of Oklahoma!

Is there a moment you knew you had to perform and could sing?
RNJ: My father was a musician. He was a long-term music director and vocal arranger for the oldies Doo-wop group, the Cadillacs. I grew up with music in our Tribeca apartment. Music was a huge part of my childhood. Pretty early on, my father recognized that I was a singer and encouraged me. I love singing, and knew it felt good from an early age. I would sing with my father at synagogue choirs and the Metropolitan Opera. As a city kid you have all these opportunities. I played the piano. I went to the opera and attended Arts Students League for visual art. I did modern dance. It was because of my father’s ear that this was something I could do.

What qualities does Laurey have that you adore?
RNJ: I love so much about this character as she was written 75 years ago. She is so strong and capable. She is an independent woman. In a lot of ways she knows who she is, and wants to preserve that idea of who she is. And yet, she is also written to have so many questions, which makes her interesting throughout the course of the play. She has a sweet heart, and is trying to navigate falling in love. She is also trying to navigate her own sexuality, and how those things might affect who she is as a strong, capable women. I just love that in our production, those things feel extra strong and bold. Both her strength and questions are highlighted.  

Tell us about your Broadway debut.
RNJ: It was Passing Strange back in 2008. I had done the show both at the Berkeley Rep and at the Public Theater. It was a co-production. It was just so exciting, because it was a downtown show, much like this production is. It felt like such a labor of love, and was unfinished and really raw in the most true sense of that word. When we all found out it was going to Broadway, it was shocking.

When the show ends, how do you get back to Naomi?
: It’s different for every show. At the end of this show, I take a shower because our show is intense. That helps. I usually just have to sit and take a breath before I leave the building. I try not to force myself to rush.

Is there any helpful advice you remember getting early in your career, or wish somebody had told you?
RNJ: You learn as you go. As you mature in this business, you realize you have to take time for yourself. You can't always be all things for all people. It's really hard for actors because the structure of the business is such that we are led to feel like we have to be all things for all people at all times. Otherwise we won't be cast or valued or remembered. But you have to take time for yourself, for your own mental health. You are a better artist if you take time for yourself. If you give yourself a life outside work, you can really put the right time and energy into the work.

What do you love to do when you are not working?
: I love to walk and exercise. In the last few years, I have found it makes me feel better. I will run, kickbox, do pilates and yoga. It’s nice to just relax in my house and have a nice time with friends.

For more of the best deals on Broadway shows, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in September 2019

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