ACT Reading Apr. 2016 73E - Passage III

Questions 21-30 are based on the following passage.

HUMANITIES: Passage A is adapted from the article "America,[br]
America: Two Plays about the Country's Complexities" by Hilton Als.(©2010 by Conde Nast). Passage Bis adapted from the article "O.K. Chorale: An English Take on Rodgers and Hammerstein" by John Lahr (©2002 by Conde Nast).

Passage A by Hilton Als

Molly Smith, the artistic director of Arena Stage in

Washington, D.C., directed the company' current

revival of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein s II's

first musical collaboration, Oklahoma! Smith's produc-
5 tion is extraordinary in thought and execution and

utterly satisfying on so many levels Smith's conceit is

entirely original:instead of taking this nearly perfect

show at face value, she has dug back into the history of

Oklahoma itself. Sold to the United States as part of the
10 1803 Louisiana Purchase, Oklahoma was opened for

settlement in 1889. By the time it became a state, eigh­-

teen years later, the Territory, as it was known, was

populated by white settlers from other parts of the

country, as well as a number of emancipated slaves and
15 forcibly resettled Native Americans, who braved

drought, harsh economic times, and often brutal and

complicated racial interactions to make the Territory

their home.

Smith doesn't explain any of this in her produc-
20 tion-who would rewrite Rodgers and Hammerstern?­--

but it shows in her casting. As in the original Broadway

production , which opened in 1943, there are no stars

onstage. Smith raises the roof not so much with "color­-

blind" casting as by paying attention to how the charac-
25 ters might have looked if they were actual Oklahomans

of the period. The wonderful Aunt Eller (E. Faye

Butler) and her niece, Laurey (the buoyant and complex

Eleasha Gamble),are black,while laurey's suitor,

Curly (the outstanding Nicholas Rodrigues),could be
30 taken foe Native American. This deviation from stan-

dard casting brings a new force to the musical-which

itself changed musicals forever by introducing plot and

narrative development into what had previously been

considered a frivolous genre. Altogether, the actors
35 seem relieved to be not segregated in black or white

shows but together in an utterly American one.

The afternoon I saw Oklahoma!, it was clear that

the members of the audience didn't feel overwhelmed

by a "classic"; instead, they were as moved as I was by
40 the humility and hope that Smith and her company

brought to the show.

Passage B by John Lahr

Because of Oklahoma!'s enormous subsequent

influence, its novelties-no opening ensemble number,

chorus girls in long dresses, dancers who don't appear
45 until late in the first act, the integrated score-have lost

some of their original lustre. In the Royal National

Theatre's three-hour revival (now at New York's

Gershwin Theatre), directed by Trevor Nunn, the

show's heady mixture of wonder and ambition is best
50 captured in its production values. Anthony Ward's pic­-

turesque set immediately submerges us m a gorgeous

world of folk innocence.

In the making of musicals, Nunn is a four-star gen-

eral. His stage pictures spill over with meticulous, artic-
55 ulate energy. But technique, which can make the show

the issue of cultural chemistry comes into play. Ameri­-

can optimism has its root in abundance and in the vast-

ness of the land that Oklahoma! celebrates. Britain, on
60 the other hand, is an island the size of Utah. Its culture

is one of scarcity; its preferred idiom is irony-a lan­-

guage of limits. In the retranslation of an award-

winning English version of an American classic to its

natural Broadway habitat, an emotional lopsidedness
65 has become evident, particularly in the casting.

The linchpins of the show are AUnt Eller,played

by the grittty, droll comedienne Anfrea Martin,who is

American and nails it, and the feisty lovelorn Laurey,

played bu the fine-voiced ,demure Josefina Gabrielle,
70 who is English and doesn't. It's not talent that's at issue

here-Gabrielle is the first Laurey to dance her own

Dream Ballet-but national character. The show is

about Western women, and Gabrielle's Laurey lacks

that very American sense of gumption, a combination
75 of buoyancy and backbone.

In his memoir, "Musical Stages," Richard Rodgers

averred that the show's opening scene-a cowboy

strolling onto the stage where a single woman is churn-

ing butter-announced to the audience, "Watch out!
80 This is a different kind of musical." He went on to say,

"Everything in the production was made to conform to

the simple open-air spirit of the story; this wa essen-

tial, and certainly a rarity in the musical theatre."

Trevor Nunn' s version of Oklahoma! preserves the
85 crowd-pleasing commercial zest of the original;but on

the evening I saw the show only a handful of audience

members stood to applaud the hardworking cast,con-

firming my suspicion that the open-air spirit of the

evening had been slowly leached away.

Question 21 The information in lines 9-18 serves primarily to