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The Broadway Musical South Pacific
James A. Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific"
In 1947, James A. Michener published a collection of short stories called Tales of the South Pacific.
Michener had been a lieutenant commander in the US Navy during World War II. The book is a selection of anecdotes he collected while stationed on Espiritu Santo, one of the islands in the New Hebrides chain—now known as Vanuatu.
This book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948.
Richard Rodgers' and Oscar Hammerstein II's "South Pacific"
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II based their musical South Pacific, which opened in 1949, upon several of the stories in Michener’s book. Rodgers wrote the music and Hammerstein wrote the lyrics. Both Hammerstein and Joshua Logan wrote the book—the story upon which the production was based.
South Pacific was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950. It also received 10 Tony Awards that year, among them Best Musical, Best Actor—Musical, Best Actress—Musical, Best Featured (Supporting) Actor—Musical, and Best Featured (Supporting) Actress—Musical. South Pacific is the only Broadway musical to have received all four acting awards.
1958 Film Version of "South Pacific"
South Pacific was a huge success. Many traveling companies of the musical toured the United States. In 1958, a film version was produced. I've seen the film version several times. The video which follows includes several songs from the 1958 movie.
Songs from the 1958 Film Version of "South Pacific"
2005 Concert Version of "South Pacific"
In June 2005, a concert version of South Pacific was presented at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Some of the dialogue was cut in order to keep the run time at two hours, but none of the songs and no parts of the musical score were deleted. Among the stars appearing in the concert version were Alec Baldwin, Reba McEntire, and Brian Stokes Mitchell.
The concert was filmed for public television and was first shown on TV in April 2006. Videos of three of the songs follow.
I have seen this wonderful production a number of times. If you have an opportunity to view the entire public television production of "South Pacific," please don't hesitate to do so.
Reba McEntire: "I'm gonna wash that man right outa my hair."
John Schuck and Reba McEntire: "Honey Bun"
2008 "South Pacific" Revival on Broadway
In 2008, a revival of South Pacific was presented on Broadway. That production received seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival.
The Controversy Surrounding "South Pacific"
South Pacific takes place during World War II. There are two main story lines. One story line involves a young nurse in the US Navy, Nellie Forbush, who is stationed in the South Pacific. Nellie falls in love with an expatriate middle-aged Frenchman, Émile de Becque .
The two plan to marry, until Nurse Forbush learns that Émile's wife had died, and he has two mixed-race children. Nellie struggles with accepting Émile's children.
The second story line involves US Marine Corps Lieutenant Joseph Cable who falls in love with a beautiful French Polynesian woman, Liat. Lt. Cable struggles with the prejudice he will face in the United States if he marries the woman he loves.
Joseph Cable sings You've Got to Be Carefully Taught, a song about interracial marriage. In 1949, this song was considered to be too controversial for the American stage. Some people felt the song was pro-communist and indecent.
When one of the touring companies of South Pacific was in the southern United States, a bill was introduced in the Georgia legislature outlawing any form of entertainment which had anything to do with communists and Russia. One Georgia legislator said that a theatrical performance involving interracial marriage was a threat to the American way of life.
Rodgers and Hammerstein refused to take You've Got to Be Carefully Taught out of their musical. They said that the song was an integral part of the production, and it was going to remain.