Rodger’s & Hammerstein’s
June 19, 2008
Dr. Kenneth DeLong
South Pacific is a Broadway musical adapted from “Tales of the South Pacific” by James Michener. Richard Rodgers composed the music and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the lyrics based off of two short stories from this book. It opened on Broadway, April 7th, 1949, and ran for more than five years. “In South Pacific, issues of prejudice and tolerance for the first time became the actual drive-mechanism of character conflicts in both the primary and secondary plot of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.” The plot for South Pacific was far greater for Hammerstein to conceptualize, because for the first time the antagonist would not be a person like in Oklahoma! or Carousel (Jud, and Jigger, respectively) but rather it would be a racial bias/prejudice within characters. The original cast starred Mary Martin as the leading actress ‘Nellie Forbush’ and opera star Ezio Pinza as the French plantation owner ‘Emile de Besque’. By turning Emile into an opera singer, Rodgers and Hammerstein aimed to move South Pacific (and their own careers) out of the musical comedy sphere and into the world of high art.
The musical is set on a South Pacific island during World War II. Emile de Becque, who is a wealthy, cultured, and middle-aged French plantation owner has fallen in love Nellie Forbush, an optimistic (A Cockeyed Optimist) young Navy nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas. Emile eventually is able to win her over with his romanticism and swagger (Some Enchanted Evening). “Also stationed on the island are a group of restless sailors, Seabees and marines who are obviously bored and sorely in need of female companionship (There is Nothin’ Like a Dame).” Seabee Luther Billis and local Tokinese (Vietnamese) Bloody Mary are in a marketing war selling local souvenirs. Lt. Joe Cable, a young, formal good looking officer arrives on the island needing...