“With any amount of self-assuredness or arrogance it’s definitely the yin and the yang; there’s definitely major insecurity and major vulnerability,” says Damon Daunno reflecting on the ethos of Oklahoma!'s Curly. His interpretation of the role—which earned him a 2019 Tony Award nomination—leans into those underlying layers and motivations.
“I’m not a very muscular man and I'm not one for fightin’,” he says with a laugh, “so the vulnerability and the sentimentality at the core speaks to me more than the arrogance. I think he's incredibly vulnerable with how he feels about Laurey and feels incredibly threatened by Jud, but has to maintain his machismo.”
Daunno also wields the full breadth of his musicianship in the part, accompanying himself on guitar. “It really is everything I love to do as a human being and how I love to express myself artistically,” he says. “It really is the best job ever.” More than artistically satisfying, playing guitar while singing helps ground him in the character, whether he’s wielding from the hips like a rock star in “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” or finding new intimacy in the “Smokehouse Scene” that relies entirely on sound (thanks to director Daniel Fish’s full blackout).
“‘Poor Jud’ is such an intense scene and such bizarre text. When I first approached it I was like, ‘What is this scene and how do I make sense of this?’” he recalls. “So playing that on guitar anchors that completely for me. It reminds me of when I was younger in college and messing around with friends and you make up songs on the spot.”
Most of all, Daunno feels excited to explore this American story with audiences every night in the fully lit space of the Circle in the Square Theatre. “I think it's a really hip decision,” he says. “It sort of immediately brings us together as one big group. Audience members get to see how other audience members are responding and makes everybody culpable for this tale that we’re sharing.”
But it’s because of Daunno and his care and charisma that we let our guard down enough for that message to land.
Watch the video above to learn more about Daunno, the show that most impacted him, the musical theatre song he’ll never get sick of, and more. Check out the video below for more on Broadway’s Oklahoma!.