Category Archives: March
Celebrated on a 1999 postage stamp, musician Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, or Rodgers & Hammerstein, were indisputably responsible for the golden age of American musicals, producing hits like The King and I, South Pacific, and The Sound of Music. Their first collaboration, however, came when the Theater Guild wanted to revamp a play about settlers in the Oklahoma Territory called Green Grow the Lilacs. Members of the Guild imagined a sort of performance that audiences were unaccustomed to, wherein a story would be told through rich musical numbers and intricately choreographed dance. The Guild figured the dance for this new opus should be based on a hybrid of traditional ballet and folksy American square dancing, and hired choreographer Agnes de Mille (herself honored on a 2004 postage stamp) to create the movement and beat of what would become Broadway standard. Oklahoma!, as the piece became named, evolves around the cowboy Curly and his unlikely romance with a farm girl, Laurey. Despite naysayers, and very few investors, Oklahoma! went on to become the most successful and longest-running show in its history, toured the world, and encouraged scores of revivals.
Oklahoma! is about an important time and society in America’s history: that of the frontiersman and homesteader. If you could write or see a musical based on any other historical era, when would it be?
César Chávez was born and raised in the Southwest to a Mexican-American family of farm workers. Having to drop out of a racist school system, he turned to migrant farm work to support his family. An extensive reader, he found a role model in Mohandas Gandhi, a revolutionary who practiced nonviolent protest. Chávez began wondering how he could reverse oppression shown to migrant farmers, and was soon hired to lead the Community Service Organization, where he encouraged Mexican Americans to register to vote. Four years later, he formed his own organization: what is now called the United Farm Workers (UFW). In 1965, César led the UFW on a march from Delano to Sacramento, California to protest low wages for grape pickers. For the rest of his life, he inspired several strikes and boycotts and went on many fasts to preach his message. Chávez was a champion for fair compensation of farm workers, against the dangers of pesticides, and helped advocate legal immigration and documentation. The UFW opened chapters all over America; Chávez died in 1993.
Do you think farm workers are important to America? Why is it important that workers are treated fairly and experience good conditions?