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The Tale of South Pacific
The team of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II has been world famous for many years. These two incredibly talented artists have to their credit a whole list of accomplishments; they are probably known most for such musicals as The Sound of Music, Oklahoma! and The King and I, but possibly the best known and most loved of all their prodigious output is South Pacific. The first production of South Pacific took place at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway in 1949, and ran with almost 2,000 performances for more than five years. During that time, and in the years ensuing, it has probably won more awards and delighted more theatregoers than any other musical in history. This musical won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950, and has won at least 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Libretto. It is the only musical ever to win all four Tony Awards for acting.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener, the story takes place during World War II, with U.S. Navy troops stationed on an island in the Pacific where the Japanese control most of the waters. The musical's theme is not unusual: love and war and how they always seem to mingle. The glorious tunes and compelling lyrics are as delightful as ever, and the immediate relevance of its depiction of men and women struggling to adapt to strange cultures in unfamiliar places combine to make South Pacific a lasting triumph.

South Pacific takes place during World War II, and the characters include U.S. Navy troops stationed on a tropical island in fairly close proximity to other islands occupied by the Japanese. The story line and the unfolding drama involve the trials and triumphs of men and women in unfamiliar and dangerous territory, both physical and emotional. The two leading characters are Emile de Becque, a wealthy and worldly Frenchman, and Nellie Forbush, an American nurse who is also a "cockeyed optimist". In the original Broadway production, they are stunningly portrayed by major stars Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin. Emile the Frenchman is enchanted by young Nellie, and she by him. She knows that he has been married before, but not that the two children she meets are half Polynesian, (in her mind an insurmountable barrier). In the meantime, the restless and lonely young Navy men are pining for female companionship, and find a welcome from "Bloody Mary", a mature Tonkinese woman who beckons from "Bali Ha'i". However, while racial and cultural barriers can be crossed physically, upbringing is another matter. Lt. Joe Cable, a U.S. Marine on a dangerous mission, falls for Bloody Mary's daughter Liat, who he mistakenly assumes is a prostitute, but recoils from the idea of marriage to a dark-skinned woman.

While all of the music and lyrics performed in South Pacific are thrilling and moving in their own right, possibly none presents the age-old conflict of prejudice and fear as clearly as the explanation given to Emile when he wonders why Nellie has decided that she can't marry him after all. The song "You've Got To Be Taught" pretty much says it all.

As the personal dramas plays on, the war looms in the background. Lt. Cable is going on a "reconnaissance" mission to an island occupied by Japanese soldiers. This mission is hopefully going to aid the Americans in winning the war, and Emile finally agrees to go along and help, since he believes he has lost the love of his life. In a tragic/hopeful ending, Joe Cable is killed fulfilling his mission, but Emile escapes with his life. He returns to find Nellie and his children waiting for him, with Nellie now accepting and embracing what she had thought was impossible.

South Pacific seems to have it all. The music and lyrics tell a beautiful and enthralling story. From "Some Enchanted Evening" to "Bali Ha'i", "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" to "Younger Than Springtime" it still speaks to viewers and listeners from all walks of life and from all over the world.

The really good news is that the Broadway revival is now playing, and no closing date has been mentioned. You can see and hear this wonderful show on Broadway, and the cast of this production is once more star-studded. The part of Nellie Forbush is beautifully played by three-time Tony Award nominee Kelli O'Hara. Paulo Szot, who has won a Tony Award, is ideal for his role as Emile de Becque.


 
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