Acting on a whim, 'Oklahoma!' star changed his life

  • Sean Grandillo, right, plays Curly opposite Sasha Hutchings' Laurey in the Broadway tour of the Tony Award-winning revival of "Oklahoma!"

    Sean Grandillo, right, plays Curly opposite Sasha Hutchings' Laurey in the Broadway tour of the Tony Award-winning revival of "Oklahoma!" Courtesy of Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

 
 
Posted1/15/2022 7:30 AM

Had singer/actor Sean Grandillo not acted on a whim in high school, he may very well still be making his living on stage. But it might not have been the CIBC Theatre stage where he co-stars as Curly in the national tour of "Oklahoma!"

As a teenager, the Cleveland, Ohio, native played with a My Chemical Romance cover band, which he said had something of a following. During his junior year in high school, Grandillo made the fateful decision to audition for a special, districtwide theater program.

 

"It was a big cultural adjustment. I almost felt like I went to college that year," said Grandillo. "I was at the ripe age where I was ready to listen. I was a sponge."

Sasha Hutchings and Sean Grandillo co-star as Laurey and Curly in director Daniel Fish's re-imagined "Oklahoma!" running through Sunday, Jan. 23, at the CIBC Theatre.
Sasha Hutchings and Sean Grandillo co-star as Laurey and Curly in director Daniel Fish's re-imagined "Oklahoma!" running through Sunday, Jan. 23, at the CIBC Theatre. - Courtesy of Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

The program took over his life: his friends changed, he gave up playing basketball to devote himself to theater, and he went on to major in theater at Ithaca College. In fact, his experience determined his career.

If he could, Grandillo says he would tap his 16-year-old self on the shoulder and "thank him for being brave enough to make that big step."

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Several years later, he spotted an audition notice for Los Angeles' Deaf West Theatre's production of "Spring Awakening" and fortune smiled on him again. He joined the cast, and within a year the show transferred to Broadway. Relocating to Los Angeles after the Broadway run ended, he worked in television and film.

"As an actor, I felt lucky anytime someone wanted to hire me to act in any medium," he said.

But his heart belongs to the theater. So when he became aware producers were casting a guitar-playing singer/actor as Curly in the national tour of 2019's Tony Award-winning "Oklahoma!," he submitted a tape, which earned him an in-person audition for director Daniel Fish's dramatically deconstructed production of the Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein classic that premiered 79 years ago.

Curly (Sean Grandillo), right, paints a picture about the passing of Jud Fry (Christopher Bannow) in director Daniel Fish's provocative revival of "Oklahoma!"
Curly (Sean Grandillo), right, paints a picture about the passing of Jud Fry (Christopher Bannow) in director Daniel Fish's provocative revival of "Oklahoma!" - Courtesy of Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

"Not a single piece of dialogue or lyric or melody has been changed," he said of the revival, adding, "It needs no changing."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The show, what it says about America, remains as topical as ever, said Grandillo, who assures theatergoers it will provide plenty of post-show conversation fodder.

If people leave with questions, he said, "we've done our job."

• • •

"Oklahoma!"

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday through Jan. 23

Where: CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000, broadwayinchicago.com

Tickets: $27-$98

COVID-19 precautions: Proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test and masks mandatory

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