South Pacific ~
Last Weeks Onstage, Telecast, Movie, & New Book
By Eiils Nassour
On August 18, four days before the final performance of its nearly two-and-a-half-year run, Lincoln Center Theatre’s Tony and Drama Desk-winning revival of Rodgers and Hammer’s South Pacific will be presented in a live three-hour telecast from the Vivian Beaumont Theatre on PBS’ Live from Lincoln Center. The musical’s Tony and DD-winning director Bartlett Sher will helm with the show’s choreographer Christopher Gattelli assisting on the musical staging.
Kelli O’Hara and Brazilian/Polish baritone Paulo Szot, whose onstage chemistry and heightened romanticism as Navy nurse Ensign Nellie Forbush from Little Rock and French plantation owner Emile de Becque enthralled audiences – and swept her to Tony and DD noms; and him to Tony and DD Awards – will be reunited for the final performances and telecast.
Also returning is Matthew Morrison [LCT’s Light in the Piazza], who segued from S. P. to TV fame on the Fox hit Glee, in the role of Joe Cable,
Tony and DD nom Danny Burstein will be featured as Seebee Luther Billis, along with Loretta Ables Sayre as Bloody Mary, and Li Jun Li as Liat, Cable’s native love interest.
Based on James Michener’s sprawling Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of his WWII experiences, Tales of the South Pacific, the musical was crafted into a compelling story of two couples who fall in love against the backdrop of the Solomon Islands and the realities of World War II and how their happiness is threatened by prejudice.
The score includes such Rodgers and Hammerstein classics as Nelli’s showstoppers "A Cockeyed Optimist," "I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," and "A Wonderful Guy"; "Younger Than Springtime," Cable’s rapturous lament for Liat; "Bloody Mary" and "There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame," sung by Billis, the Seebees, and sailors; "Bali Ha’i," and "Happy Talk," sung by Mary; Cable’s scorching rebuke against prejudice, "You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught"; and two of the most beautiful songs in musical theater history, Emile’s showstopping and soaring ballads "Some Enchanted Evening" and "This Nearly Was Mine."
This on the heels of the announcement that the musical will be remade as "a tougher, more realistic" vehicle for the big screen, with expected release in 2013, by Amber Entertainment, Chicagofilms [headed by Bob Balaban], Imagem [a unit of R&H publishing; and Ted Chapin, R&H prez.
Under the 1949 Broadway show’s director Joshua Logan, it was filmed in 70mm in 1958, starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi, with Logan strangely imposing deep hues over certain scenes. There was a Glenn Close/Harry Connick Jr. ABC movie in 2001; and a 2006 Carnegie Hall concert, headlining Reba McEntire, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Alec Baldwin [Billis] that was broadcast on PBS’ Great Performances.
Coinciding with all this is the coffee table book, South Pacific: Paradise Rewritten [Oxford University Press/Broadway Legacies series; 288 pages, hardcover, 29 B&W halftones, 13 B&W musical notations, Appendixes, Notes, Bibliography, Index; SRP $28] by Jim Lovensheimer, assistant professor of music, Vanderbilt University, about the musical that that not only soared with beautiful melodies but also addressed major social and political issues of its day.
Drawing on the files of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lovensheimer explores the composers’ early careers and how they explored serious social issues in other works, discusses their involvement in political movements, the musical’s complex messages, and how the presentation of same changed in the creative process – especially interesting is how book writer Hammerstein refined and refined the themes of gender and racial intolerance to make it acceptable to late-40s Broadway audiences.
There are wonderful behind-the-scenes stories about the cast [Mary Martin, Ezio Pinza, Myron McCormick, Juanita Hall, and William Tabbert]Among the appendices is a scene-by-scene breakdown; and others comparing the original drafts with the final forms of "I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," "A Wonderful Guy," and "Happy Talk." The musical played a record-breaking 1,925 performances.