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Thread: South Pacific

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    Grumpy Old Man Music Head's Avatar
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    Default South Pacific

    Going to start occasionally creating some threads for the great musicals that have been produced over the years. This is the first installment. Feel free to comment.
    “A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.”
    Will Rogers

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    Lancaster, Kentucky, United States


    South Pacific is a 1949 musical with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan. The story draws from James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning, 1948 novel, Tales of the South Pacific, weaving together characters and elements from several of its stories into a single plotline. The musical won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950. The issue of racial prejudice was sensitively and candidly explored, particularly for the 1949 stage work.

    South Pacific is generally considered to be one of the greatest musicals in history. Several of its songs, including "Bali Ha'i," "Some Enchanted Evening," "Happy Talk," "Younger than Springtime," and "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy," have become worldwide standards. The Broadway production of South Pacific was nominated for ten Tony Awards and won all of them, including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Libretto. It was the only musical production ever to win all four Tony Awards for acting. The show was a critical and box office hit and has since enjoyed many successful revivals and tours and spawned a 1958 film and other adaptations.

    Director Joshua Logan, a World War II veteran, read Michener's Tales of the South Pacific and decided to adapt it for the stage or screen. He and producer Leland Hayward arranged to purchase the rights for the work from Michener; they also asked Richard Rodgers to compose music for the work and Oscar Hammerstein II to write lyrics and the libretto. Hayward would produce, and Logan would serve as director and producer. Rodgers and Hammerstein accepted, and they began transforming the short stories "Fo' Dolla" and "Our Heroine" into a unified tale. Since both stories were serious in tone, Michener agreed to include a third story about Luther Billis, a womanizing sailor.

    During this time, the team received a telephone call from Edwin Lester of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. He had signed Metropolitan Opera star Ezio Pinza for a new musical, but the musical fell through and, according to his contract, Pinza had to be paid $25,000 regardless of whether he actually performed. Lester was searching for a new vehicle for Pinza, and Rodgers and Hammerstein eagerly signed Pinza to play Emile De Becque, the male lead. Hammerstein had been particularly inspired by Mary Martin, wearing a gingham dress in the last scene of One Touch of Venus and he wanted her to play Nellie Forbush, the female lead. Martin was playing Annie Oakley in the touring company of Annie Get Your Gun, but after Rodgers and Hammerstein auditioned three songs, "A Cockeyed Optimist", "Some Enchanted Evening" and "Twin Soliloquies", for Martin and her husband, Richard Halliday, she accepted the role.

    Hammerstein, according to the contract, was to write both the lyrics and libretto. However, he knew very little about the U.S. Navy in World War II or about Nellie's Southern dialect and culture. Rodgers asked Logan to help Hammerstein with the libretto and Logan helped Hammerstein write the book, asking to be credited as co-author. Hammerstein agreed to give Logan credit as co-author of the libretto, but added, "Of course, it goes without saying that you won't get anything whatsoever of the author's royalties."

    Original Broadway production

    After out-of-town tryouts in New Haven and Boston in March 1949, South Pacific opened on Broadway on April 7, 1949, at the Majestic Theatre, moving to the Broadway Theatre in June 1953. It was produced by Rodgers and Hammerstein in association with Leland Hayward and Joshua Logan, with direction and musical staging by Logan. The production ran for more than five years. At the time it closed on January 16, 1954, after 1,925 performances, it was the fifth-longest running show in Broadway history. The original cast featured Mary Martin as Nellie Forbush and opera star Ezio Pinza, as Emile de Becque. Also in the cast were Juanita Hall and Myron McCormick (both of whom won Tony Awards for their performances), and Betta St. John.

    Although Forbush and de Becque were already fully developed characters in Michener's stories, at some point during the creation of South Pacific, Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Logan began to adapt the roles specifically to the talents of Martin and Pinza and to tailor the music for their voices. The production won ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Libretto, Best Director and all four acting awards. In June 1951 Martin was replaced by Martha Wright, who performed the role for production's remaining 1,047 performances. George Britton took over the role of Emile de Becque in January 1952, playing the role opposite Martin until the show closed in January 1954. Cloris Leachman played the role for four weeks on Broadway after she impressed Logan, Rodgers, and Hammerstein while auditioning for the lead as a replacement in the national tour.

    U.S. tour, 1950-1955

    A U.S. tour ran for almost five years in 118 cities from April 1950 through March 26, 1955. Janet Blair starred as Nellie Forbush, followed by Jeanne Bal and Iva Withers. Emile de Becque was played by Richard Eastham, Webb Tilton, and Alan Gerard.

    Original West End production

    London's West End production ran from November 1, 1951 to 1953, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. It was directed by Joshua Logan and starred Mary Martin and Wilbur Evans and featured Ray Walston (Luther), Muriel Smith (Bloody Mary), Peter Grant (Joe Cable), and Ivor Emmanuel (Sgt. Johnson). Mary Martin was replaced during the run by Julie Wilson.

    1988 West End revival

    This revival starred Gemma Craven, who was supported by Emile Belcourt, Bertice Reading, and Johnny Wade, and was directed by Roger Redfern. It ran at the Prince of Wales Theatre from January 20, 1988 to January 14, 1989.

    2001 West End revival

    The Royal National Theatre (Olivier Theatre) in London staged a limited run of the musical from December 2001 through April 2002, timed to celebrate the centenary of Richard Rodgers' birth. This production was directed by Trevor Nunn, with musical staging by Matthew Bourne and designs by John Napier. Nellie was performed by Lauren Kennedy and Emile was performed by the Australian actor Philip Quast.

    A film of this production can be viewed at the V&A Theatre Collections reading room at Blythe House in Olympia, London.

    2005 Carnegie Hall concert

    On June 9, 2005, a concert version of the musical, edited down to two hours, but including all of the songs and the full musical score, was presented live at Carnegie Hall. It starred Reba McEntire as Nellie Forbush, Brian Stokes Mitchell as Emile, Alec Baldwin as Luther Billis, and Lillias White as Bloody Mary, with a full supporting cast. The production used Robert Russell Bennett's original orchestrations, with the Orchestra of St. Luke's directed by Paul Gemignani. This production was taped and telecast by PBS on April 26, 2006. The DVD of this performance was released the spring of the following year. New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley wrote, "Open-voiced and open-faced, Reba McEntire was born to play Nellie," and that the entire production was performed "in a state of nearly unconditional rapture. It was one of those nights when cynicism didn’t stand a chance."

    2007-08 UK tour

    A major new touring production of South Pacific opened in the UK at the Blackpool Grand Theatre on August 28, 2007. The tour was expected to finish at the Cardiff New Theatre in July 2008. The tour stars Helena Blackman as Nellie and Dave Willetts as Emile. The tour is produced by Peter Frosdick and Martin Dodd for UK Productions. The production is directed by Julian Woolford, with choreography by Chris Hocking. This production was most noted for its staging of the overture, which charted Nellie's journey from Little Rock to the South Pacific. On entering the theatre, the audience first saw a map of the U.S., not the theater of war.

    2008 Broadway revival

    The first Broadway revival of South Pacific began previews on March 1, 2008, with an official opening on April 3 at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre. It was directed by Bartlett Sher, with musical staging by Christopher Gattelli and associate choreographer Joe Langworth. Kelli O'Hara played Nellie Forbush, Paulo Szot played Emile de Becque, and Matthew Morrison played Lt. Cable; Danny Burstein and Loretta Ables Sayre also appeared.

    Although some critics were mixed on the performances of O'Hara, Szot and Morrison, the production received mostly rave reviews. Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times: "I know we’re not supposed to expect perfection in this imperfect world, but I'm darned if I can find one serious flaw in this production. (Yes, the second act remains weaker than the first, but Mr. Sher almost makes you forget that.) All of the supporting performances, including those of the ensemble, feel precisely individualized, right down to how they wear Catherine Zuber's carefully researched period costumes."

    The revival won five Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical Revival and garnered 11 Tony nominations, including best revival, director, choreographer, all four acting categories and all four design categories. It won best revival and six other Tonys. The late Robert Russell Bennett was recognized for "his historic contribution to American musical theatre in the field of orchestrations, as represented on Broadway this season by Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific."

    The show will close on August 22, 2010 after 37 previews and 1,000 regular performances.

    2009 U.S. Tour

    A U.S. national tour based on the 2008 Broadway revival began in San Francisco, California at the Golden Gate Theatre on September 18, 2009. Bartlett Sher directed. The cast included Rod Gilfry (Emile de Becque), Carmen Cusack (Nellie Forbush), Anderson Davis (Lt. Cable), Matthew Saldivar (Luther Billis), Keala Settle (Bloody Mary), and Sumie Maeda (Liat)


    Act I

    On a South Pacific island during World War II, two half-Melanesian children, Ngana and Jerome, happily sing as they play together ("Dites-Moi"). Ensign Nellie Forbush, a naive U.S. Navy nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas has fallen in love with Emile de Becque, a middle-aged French plantation owner, though she has only known him for a short time. Even though everyone else is worried about the outcome of the war, Nellie explains to Emile that she is sure everything will turn out all right ("Cockeyed Optimist"). She and Emile are in love, but neither has told the other how they feel. Each wonders if the other reciprocates his feelings ("Twin Soliloquies"). Emile then expresses his feelings for Nellie, recalling how they met at the officers' club dance, and instantly were attracted to each other ("Some Enchanted Evening"). Nellie returns to the hospital for work and Emile calls Ngana and Jerome to him, revealing to the audience that they are his children, unbeknownst to Nellie.

    Meanwhile, the restless American sailors, led by the lovable Luther Billis, lament the absence of women or combat to relieve their boredom—especially the former. Navy nurses are commissioned officers - off-limits to enlisted men. There is one non-Navy woman on the island, a middle-aged Tonkinese grass skirt seller, nicknamed "Bloody Mary". and as there are no other women, the sailors make sarcastic overtures to her ("Bloody Mary"). Billis wants to go to the nearby island of Bali Ha'i (which is off-limits to all but officers), not only for the women, but because he seems genuinely interested in the native culture. None of the other sailors believe the latter, but it becomes obvious later in the musical. Billis and the sailors lament the lack of female company ("There is Nothin' Like a Dame").

    U.S. Marine Lieutenant Joe Cable arrives on the island from Guadacanal. He has been sent to take part in a dangerous spy mission that might help turn the tide of the war against Japan. Bloody Mary shows interest in him—it appears she is in love with him. She tries to persuade him to come to her native island ("Bali H'ai").

    After thinking a bit more about Emile and the life they would have on the island, Nellie tells the other nurses that she intends to break up with him ("I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair"). But she meets Emile unexpectedly and realizes that she still loves him. He invites her to a party he has set up for the purpose of introducing her to all of his friends, and his children. Nellie eagerly accepts and after Emile leaves, she declares her love for him ("I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy").

    Cable's mission is to land on a Japanese-held island and report on Japanese ship movements. The Navy wants Emile to be his guide, as he has lived on that island. But Emile refuses, refuses due to his love for Nellie and feelings of alienation from others.

    Captain Brackett, the commanding officer, tells Cable to go on leave until the mission can take place. Billis convinces Lt. Cable to take him to Bali Ha'i. There, Billis participates in a native manhood ritual, while Bloody Mary introduces Cable to Liat, a beautiful young girl. Cable becomes infatuated with Liat and takes her to bed, seemingly thinking she is a prostitute. Cable expresses his feelings ("Younger Than Springtime"). Liat reveals that Bloody Mary is, in fact, her mother. This explains Bloody Mary's interest in Cable: she thought he would make a good husband for Liat. Her plan shows promise, as Cable and Liat have quickly fallen in love. The two couples, Nellie and Emile, along with Liat and Cable, deepen their affection, and Emile and Nellie become engaged.

    But their evening together takes a surprising turn when Emile introduces Nellie to Jerome and Ngana, his children by a native woman. Nellie, in spite of her caring nature, has deep-seated racial feelings as a result of her upbringing, and is particularly upset to think of Emile married to a dark-skinned woman. Tearful, she breaks off the engagement and leaves him.


    Overture - Orchestra
    Dites-Moi - Ngana and Jerome
    A Cockeyed Optimist - Nellie
    Twin Soliloquies - Nellie and Emile
    Some Enchanted Evening - Emile
    Dites-Moi (Reprise) - Ngana and Jerome
    Bloody Mary - Sailors, Seabees, and Marines
    There Is Nothing Like a Dame - Sailors, Seabees, and Marines
    Bali Ha'i - Bloody Mary, Billis, and Cable
    I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair - Nellie and Nurses
    Some Enchanted Evening (Reprise) - Emile and Nellie
    I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy - Nellie and Nurses
    Bali Ha'i (Reprise) - French Girls
    Younger Than Springtime - Cable
    Bali Ha'i (Reprise) - French Girl
    A Wonderful Guy (Reprise) - Nellie and Emile
    Twin Soliloquies (Reprise) - Nellie and Emile
    A Cockeyed Optimist (Reprise) - Emile and Nellie
    I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair (Reprise) - Emile
    Finale: Act I (Some Enchanted Evening) - Emile

    Act II

    As Liat and Cable spend more time together, Bloody Mary is delighted. She encourages them to continue their carefree life on the island ("Happy Talk"), and urges them to get married. But Cable has strong racial concerns, and says he cannot marry a Tonkinese girl. Cable gives Liat the watch his father carried in World War I. Bloody Mary is furious, breaks the watch, and drags her distraught daughter away, saying she must marry another, older man. Cable no longer finds Liat so charming ("Younger Than Springtime" (reprise)). Though aware and ashamed of their bigotry, Nellie and Cable are prisoners of their upbringings; they think they have no options. As Cable explains to Nellie, he is a graduate of Princeton University, and heir to an established family firm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

    Meanwhile, Nellie is occupied with planning a Thanksgiving show for the sailors. She is so upset about the end of her romance with Emile that she has to leave rehearsals, and almost cancels the show. But Captain Brackett tells her to fulfill her responsibilities, and she goes through with it after all. She does a comedy turn dressed as a sailor singing the praises of "his" sweetheart ("Honey Bun"). Billis plays Honey Bun, dressed in a blonde wig, grass skirt, and coconut-shell bra. Backstage, Emile brings flowers for Nellie, but Billis, who has feelings for Nellie himself, knows what is going on and tells Emile that Nellie has been so upset that she shouldn't see him. Billis takes the flowers and later gives them to Nellie. She kisses him, which he had been longing for, but Billis reluctantly admits that the flowers are from Emile.

    Emile, who still loves Nellie in spite of everything, asks Cable why he and Nellie have such prejudices. Cable has realised he still loves Liat, having not been able to stop thinking about her since returning from Bali H'ai. He, resentfully replies that "it's not something you're born with, it's the way you're brought up" ("Carefully Taught"). Cable is beginning to break away from these feelings. Emile imagines what might have been, lamenting his refused marriage proposal ("This Nearly Was Mine"). Dejected and with nothing to lose, Emile agrees to join Cable on his dangerous mission. The two send back reports on Japanese ships moving along the "Slot"; American aircraft intercept and destroy the Japanese ships. Japanese Zeros strafe their position, killing Cable. Emile narrowly escapes.[23]

    A major offensive, "Operation Alligator," gets underway and the previously idle sailors, including Billis, go off to battle. Meanwhile, Nellie learns of Cable's death, and that Emile is missing. She is distraught, and decides that if Emile returns, she will marry him, mixed-race children or not. She throws off her prejudices and spends time with Jerome and Ngana. Emile returns home, to the now-understanding Nellie and his—soon to be their—children, and they rejoice ("Dites-Moi" (reprise)).


    Entr'acte - Orchestra
    Happy Talk - Bloody Mary
    Younger Than Springtime (Reprise) - Cable
    Honey Bun - Nellie and Girls
    You've Got to Be Carefully Taught - Cable
    This Nearly Was Mine - Emile
    A Wonderful Guy (Reprise) - Nurses
    Some Enchanted Evening (Reprise) - Nellie
    Honey Bun (Reprise) - Sailors, Seabees, and Marines
    Finale (Dites-Moi) - Nellie, Ngana, Jerome, and Emile
    “A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.”
    Will Rogers

  3. #3


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  4. #4


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  5. #5


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  6. #6


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