I was recently contacted by a young actor who was researching Curly in Oklahoma!
He wanted to know if I had any suggestions about where he could find out more background about the role because he wanted it to reflect a strong sense of truth and the utmost depth of characterization. I referred him to the script.
Those of you who know my writing, know that I think deeply researching roles in plays beyond what is in the script is only valid for playing historical and real people such as Streep doing Maggie Thatcher or LaPone doing Evita. But researching fictional characters beyond the confines of the script is nonsensical and a waste of time. This is especially true in Oklahoma! and similar musicals.
Oklahoma! is not about the reality of Oklahoma becoming a state. That is just the background for the melodrama involving Curly, the hero; Jud, the villain; and Laurie, the heroine. The play is no deeper than that. Curly is not an authentic cowboy, he does not dress like one, nor act like one. He dresses and acts like a hero in a melodrama. If he were a real cowboy of the time,he would have bad teeth, leathery skin, body odor, and venereal disease.
Curly has no deep psyche or background for what he does. He is a hero. The actor wanted to know how to personalize the role if he didn't do all that research. The answer is that the uniqueness of his physical appearance and voice would do that. Acting is a blending of the role and the actor. The role as presented in the script and the physical and emotional presentation of the role by the actor. What makes an outstanding Curly is magnificent singing and the effective presentation of the hero of the piece.
Yes, many actors do a great deal of analysis and research when playing a role. I happen to believe that most of it is wasted effort and at times detrimental to the show. Method acting just doesn't work for musicals. In fact, nowadays, it doesn't work very well for any sort of acting. Today's actors do not act, they react. They need talent, not technique because technique is artificial. Stanislavsky, Adler, Strasberg, Hagan, etal, contradicted their search for realistic acting by creating techniques including analysis and affective memory which provided artificial backgrounds and responses rather than the reality they sought.