• Ting Shen/Sun-Times Media
  • Tari Kelly as Ado Annie Carnes and Usman Ally as Ali Hakim in Oklahoma!

A few years ago we went to a local production of Oklahoma! that was billed as “revisionist.” I sort of wish I hadn’t known about that ahead of time, for I sat there looking for the curveball; instead of simply enjoying the show, I kept wondering when the revisionism was going to kick in. Walking to our car, I ran through the production trying to put my finger on what they’d done differently. True enough, it had none of the by-the-numbers fatigue of a Broadway classic remounted in one too many dinner theaters. The cast was small, nimble, and enthusiastic. But the size of the cast was obviously driven by necessity, not by anyone’s daring rethinking of the show.

In the end I decided it had something to do with Ado Annie. I’m not sure whether I really believed that, but I was at least pretty certain that if a director wanted to set Oklahoma! on its ear, Ado Annie was a good place to start. My creative side took over, and by the time we reached our car I had a poem about Ado Annie almost completely worked out in my head.