Broadway Features and Reviews
South Pacific: Smooth Sailing Broadway Success
By Caitlin Maggs
From cowboys to carousels, Rodgers and Hammerstein are certainly no strangers to the costume department. Having developed some of the world's greatest musicals including 'State Fair' and the classic high-kicking rodeo 'Oklahoma,' it was merely a touch of fate that James Michener's prize winning novel, 'Tales of The South Pacific,' landed on the musical maestros' doorsteps in 1947.
The result was the Broadway musical "South Pacific." It was match made in heaven, going on to become not just an enormously successful movie but a similarly huge and long lasting Broadway hit; selling millions of soundtracks worldwide. Applauded by Newsday as "Visually spectacular", following its recent 2008 Broadway revival, the theatre world remains stably aboard this success story. With its richly influential and magnificently powerful sub-plots, 'South Pacific' appears to be aging gracefully on centre stage; although hasn't this classic war-time love story come on a long journey so far?
Speaking to audiences of the past and present, the concept of 'South Pacific' was originally bought into the world by the naval historian James Michener, when he wrote his brilliant novel in the wake of World War II. War being a weighted theme to this emotive story, the emphasis is still on the plot which follows the poignant relationship between a navy nurse and a French plantation owner, who fall in love on a Pacific island, only to be forcefully driven apart by racial prejudice and an overwhelming society. The American writer of an incredible 40 novels has this celebrated story, and many others including 'Return to Paradise,' anchored securely in place within both movie archives and audience memories world-wide.
Defined by a tremendous score and dazzling cast, 'South Pacific's musical reputation and regenerative capabilities have not dimmed. The musical remains equally fresh and relevant in the modern day, as it was during the war. Making Broadway history, however, is not as easy as you may think.
Michener was of course delighted by the thought of numerous media's adaptations for his turbulent love story in 1949; but this didn't stop him making special requests to Hammerstein and Rogers before the paperwork was signed. Appealing not to use too much thought-provoking material led to a debatable cutting of a song from the score; 'You've got to be carefully taught.' Possibilities of over-complicating the plot-line would endanger the deceptively simple, universal themes of love, loss and forgiveness embodied in the roots of this play. All of which wisely contribute to the enlightening comedy and moving drama which so many adore.
Yet the encores are still rolling on for this marine-musical's "rapturous revival," as the New York Times are happy to add. But impressive performances, stunning sets and timeless songs aside, 'South Pacific' has 10 Tony Awards under its belt to keep it afloat. After the bumpy ride to Broadway, it looks like smooth sailing in store for the future of this classic show.