I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific...
August 21, 2010 8:05 AM   Subscribe

Tomorrow after 37 previews and 1000 performances, Broadway will bid farewell to the critically-lauded, award-winning, first-ever revival of the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical South Pacific.
I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific. The way it actually was. The endless ocean. The infinite specks of coral we called islands. Coconut palms nodding gracefully toward the ocean. Reefs upon which waves broke into spray, and inner lagoons, lovely beyond description. I wish I could tell you about the sweating jungle, the full moon rising behind the volcanoes, and the waiting. The waiting. The timeless, repetitive waiting....
First produced on Broadway in 1949 starring Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin, South Pacific quickly became a staple of American musical theatre through productions in countless schools and community theatres across the country. It's been seen on tour numerous times. But it didn't get the formal revival treatment until 2008, nearly sixty years after the curtain rose on the original production.

Directed by Bartlett Sher (Broadway's Light in the Piazza, the forthcoming Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), the production starred Kelli O'Hara (Light in the Piazza, The Pajama Game) as Nellie Forbush (the Martin role), newcomer Paulo Szot as Emile de Becque (the Pinza role), and Matthew Morrison (Glee, Light in the Piazza, Hairspray) as Lieutenant Joe Cable. Szot (pronounced Shot), a veteran opera performer, made his Broadway debut with the production. A thirty piece orchestra (revealed at the beginning and end of the show) performed the original Robert Russell Bennett orchestrations. The creative team restored cut dialogue to give clarity to the show's racial themes.

The New York Times' Ben Brantley called the results "rapturous," saying "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." Clive Barnes for the New York Post said it was "simply wonderful!" and had "not a single weakness." Variety's David Rooney proclaimed it "ravishing" and an "outstanding achievement." Szot would go on to win the Best Actor in a musical Tony Award, Sher won for Best Director of a musical, and the production would be named Best Revival of a musical (in a highly competitive year for musical revivals). The entire design team was nominated (and won) as well, garnering the production a total of seven Tony Awards. Originally a limited run, the production extended into an open-ended run that closes tomorrow.

PBS broadcast the production live this past Wednesday for its Live From Lincoln Center series. Check your local listings for re-broadcast information, but don't hesitate - it can't be aired (or purchased) after Sunday. Playbill compiled a few Enchanted Evenings from past productions. Lincoln Center has clips from the show and press video on their YouTube channel, and behind-the-scenes peeks on their website. They've also got a blog with cast interviews, stories, and more.

The closing performance is sold out, but you can see the production on tour (it's very good).
They will live a long time, these men of the South Pacific. They had an American quality. They, like their victories, will be remembered as long as our generation lives. After that, like the men of the Confederacy, they will become strangers. Longer and longer shadows will obscure them, until their Guadalcanal sounds distant on the ear like Shiloh and Valley Forge. - James A. Michener, Tales of the South Pacific
posted by cvp (17 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Ooh, thank you for posting this! I hadn't realized it was on Live from Lincoln Center. Doesn't look like it'll have Matthew Morrison in it, though.

Yes, I might be a Glee fangirl. And?
posted by booksherpa at 8:27 AM on August 21, 2010

I tore a hamstring doing the splits during the finale of "Nothing Like a Dame" in a college production. Also, everyone in our program was either gay or Mormon or both, so it was probably the least convincing version of that song ever performed.

Also, remember when crusty old Glenn Close tried to pass as Nellie for that TV version? *shudders*
posted by hermitosis at 8:35 AM on August 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

We watched it ( me for the first time) the other night on PBS. Beyond enjoying it thoroughly, two things struck me. First, the racism/anti-racism element surprised me for that time frame (1948), and secondly, now I know where the idea for McHale's Navy came from!
posted by lobstah at 8:38 AM on August 21, 2010

booksherpa: Matt is filming Glee, so he couldn't come back for the end of the run. The rest of the original principals were present though.
posted by cvp at 8:39 AM on August 21, 2010

To be fair, not even movie sells that song. Tradsesmen must use rear enterance? Yeah.

Also, selling your child into marriage is ...romantic? Whatever 1948.
posted by The Whelk at 8:42 AM on August 21, 2010

Thanks so much cvp....wanted to get to the performance but were unable. Great post. 340
posted by skepticallypleased at 8:44 AM on August 21, 2010

That being said, South Pacific is one Huge Lush Number after another. It's almost a throwback-hangover from earlier, less story-driven shows.
posted by The Whelk at 8:46 AM on August 21, 2010

My wife and I stumbled across this on Live from Lincoln Center on Wednesday. It was pretty great.
posted by mwhybark at 8:57 AM on August 21, 2010

Awesoe post. I saw this production twice, once from the front row. Watched it a third time on PBS the other night. Still awesome.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:19 AM on August 21, 2010

The art of Rodgers & Hammerstein is so righteous.

Mitzi Gaynor was lovely in the film version.
posted by ovvl at 11:04 AM on August 21, 2010

Three things:

1. Does Loretta Ables Sayre / "Bloody Mary" hit the note in "Bali H'i"?
(From this Tony preview concert, starting at 2:38 - note at 5:20, it seems she cheats it heavily.)

2. hermitosis, agreed: 50-yo Glenn Close as 19-yo Nellie, worried that the plantation owner was too old for her, when that actor was actually younger than Glenn... shudder! Was Roseanne Barr unavailable?

3. The Whelk notes: Also, selling your child into marriage is ...romantic? Whatever 1948. True, weird; but not unrealistic. If anything, South Pacific injected more realism into Broadway than any musical had before. Rogers & Hammerstein didn't gloss over much - racism, cheating on the girl back home, escapism, and desperation. No real gore & bloodshed, but then the movie wasn't actually about battle.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:07 PM on August 21, 2010

Happy talk!
posted by unliteral at 12:50 PM on August 21, 2010

Captain Sensible: Happy Talk.
posted by ovvl at 1:37 PM on August 21, 2010

> Tomorrow after 37 previews

In a row?
posted by hjo3 at 4:33 PM on August 21, 2010

I am pleased to know a chorus boy (Chorus man? Anyway, he's very nice in addition to very talented.) in this production. I hadn't seen it until the live television broadcast though, and it was so much better than the old movie - the staging, the take on racism, etc. I'm glad I caught it. Won me over despite my broadway musical aversion.
posted by rainbaby at 8:42 PM on August 21, 2010

Wonderful post!!!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:31 PM on August 22, 2010

I didn't even know it was playing. I worked as a stage hand on a summer stock touring company's version when I was 16. There's the scene where Lt. Cable comes shuffling back from a good time, and my place was waiting in the wings for the end of the scene, while the Lt. is waiting to go on, with his shirt off. An extremely fond memory. The man was HOT, and pleased that I recognized that fact. LOL! (ha, he was also old enough to know it was fading)
posted by Goofyy at 7:14 AM on August 23, 2010

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