Final Bow: Ali Stroker Reflects on Her Time as One of Oklahoma!'s "Gutsy Women"
Stroker won a 2019 Tony for her performance as Ado Annie in Daniel Fish's reimagined production.
Daniel Fish's Tony-winning revival of Oklahoma! has been surprising Broadway audiences with its darker hues and disturbing overtones about American tribalism since opening this past spring at Circle in the Square Theatre. Fortunately for Ali Stroker — who has since picked up a Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Musical — that only makes her audiences hungrier for the relieving comedy of Ado Annie.
Stroker has made her signature number "I Cain't Say No" a showstopper, not just with bubbly levity, but with the meat she's given a character who, in her hands, is not just as a frothy flirt, but a woman who embraces both her sexuality and curiosity. The bold production plays its final performance on January 19 — a finish line Stroker is nervous to pass, as it means saying goodbye to a creative outlet that's been with her since the show's 2018 run at St. Ann's Warehouse. But while this may be the end of a life-changing era, Stroker can at least look forward to returning to a daily existence that is not steeped in the aroma of chili.
1. What is your favorite line that you get to say or sing?
"Yeow, they told me." And then I go right into "I Cain't Say No."
2. What is your cast's best inside joke?
Well, this is sort of a sweet thing. But every night we pick a line or a word from the show and we do a hands-in and a countdown and we say that word right before we go onstage. If an understudy is going on, we'll choose one of their words, or if it's somebody's birthday, we'll choose one of their words. It's just fun because you hear the lines out of context and you're like, "When does that come in the show?"
3. What was the worst technical difficulty you experienced during the run, and how was it handled?
We've had sound issues a few times at the top of the show. We'd go out onstage, and we'd start the show, and none of the mics or the sound would be up. It happened once, and then we went offstage and restarted the show, and it didn't work again, so we had to start again. So that was sort of stressful. But the audience likes it. The things that we think are the worst are the things that people love.
4. What is the most interesting present you received at the stage door?
I'm obsessed with all the fan art that comes our way. It's just so beautiful to see how people interpret the show — especially the dream ballet. So that's my favorite part. Just to get a glimpse of what people perceive. Everyone has their own opinion, which is the point.
5. Who is the coolest person to come see the show?
Hillary Clinton. She's just one of the most powerful women I've ever met. She put out a new book with her daughter Chelsea called The Book of Gutsy Women and they included me. I hadn't seen her since they had done that, so I got to talk to her about the book, which was just really special. It features probably close to 100 women in history, and before or after me is Maya Angelou, so it's like…holy cow. To be counted amongst this group of women is just the highest honor.
6. What have you come to admire most about Ado Annie?
I admire her curiosity. And that's also been one of the biggest challenges, because to do this show so many times and to have to every single night ask the same questions and genuinely not know the answers is really hard.
7. There's a portion of the show where the lights come up and the whole audience at Circle in the Square is visible. What has been the most memorable reaction you've seen from an audience member?
You see people get emotional and you see people be confused and excited and upset. To watch someone's full spectrum of emotions is one of the most incredible parts of this show.
8. The Oklahoma! audiences are fed chili during intermission of every show. How much chili have you personally consumed over the course of your run?
Oh, God! You know, actually not that much. The smell of it every night is so familiar that I can't imagine eating it. We made it once or twice this past summer, and I was like, "I don't think I can actually enjoy this until we're done."
9. How would you compare your first time singing "I Cain't Say No" to your current performance?
First of all, what's cool about singing a song so many times is it really settles into your voice. So the parts that were hard are no longer hard. But every single night, it's different. The theater feels different every night, and I'm human, so I am different every night. So I try to honor that.
10. What do you most appreciate about what this version of Oklahoma! has to say about America?
I appreciate that it reveals the good and the bad. I think as a country, oftentimes we try to sweep the bad under a rug. This production does not allow it. It reveals the sexism, it reveals the racism, it reveals the darkness of exclusion. I just think that it does a really good job of not allowing the picture of America to be fearful — allowing everyone to see just maybe what we are.