South Pacific

South Pacific (musical)

South Pacific is a musical, with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and book by both Hammerstein and Joshua Logan. The story draws from James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1948 book, Tales of the South Pacific, weaving together characters and elements from several of its stories into a single plotline. The musical won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950. The issue of racial prejudice was sensitively and candidly explored, particularly for a 1949 stage work.

South Pacific is generally considered to be one of the greatest musicals in history. Several of its songs, including "Bali Ha'i," "Some Enchanted Evening," "Happy Talk", "Younger than Springtime," and "A Wonderful Guy" have become worldwide standards. The Broadway production of South Pacific was nominated for ten Tony Awards and won all of them, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Libretto. It was the only musical production ever to win all four Tony Awards for acting. The show was a critical and box office hit, and the musical has since enjoyed many successful revivals and tours and spawned a 1958 film and other adaptations.


Director Joshua Logan, a World War II veteran, read Michener's Tales of the South Pacific and decided to adapt it for the stage or screen. He and producer Leland Hayward arranged to purchase the rights for the work from Michener; they also asked Richard Rodgers to compose music for the work and Oscar Hammerstein II to write lyrics and the libretto. Hayward would produce, and Logan would serve as director and producer. Rodgers and Hammerstein accepted, and they began transforming the short stories "Fo' Dolla" and "Our Heroine" into a unified tale. Since both stories were serious in tone, Michener agreed to include a third story about Luther Billis, a womanizing sailor.

During this time, the team received a telephone call from Edwin Lester of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. He had signed Metropolitan Opera star Ezio Pinza for a new musical, but the musical fell through and, according to his contract, Pinza had to be paid $25,000 regardless of whether he actually performed. Lester was searching for a new vehicle for Pinza, and Rodgers and Hammerstein eagerly signed Pinza to play Emile De Becque, the male lead. Hammerstein had been particularly inspired by Mary Martin wearing a gingham dress in the last scene of One Touch of Venus, and he wanted her to play Nellie Forbush, the female lead. Martin was playing Annie Oakley in the touring company of Annie Get Your Gun, but after Rodgers and Hammerstein auditioned three songs, "A Cockeyed Optimist", "Some Enchanted Evening", and "Twin Soliloquies" for Martin and her husband, Richard Halliday, she accepted the role..

Hammerstein, according to the contract, was to write both the lyrics and libretto. However, he knew very little about the U.S. Navy in World War II or about Nellie's Southern dialect and culture. Rodgers asked Logan to help Hammerstein with the libretto, and Logan helped Hammerstein write the book, asking to be credited as co-author. Hammerstein agreed to give Logan credit as co-author of the libretto, but added, "Of course, it goes without saying that you won't get anything whatsoever of the author's royalties."


Original Broadway production After out-of-town tryouts in New Haven and Boston in March 1949, South Pacific opened on Broadway on April 7 1949, at the Majestic Theatre, moving to the Broadway Theatre in June 1953. It was produced by Rodgers and Hammerstein in association with Leland Hayward and Joshua Logan, with direction and musical staging by Logan. The production ran for more than five years. At the time it closed on January 16, 1954, after 1,925 performances, it was the fifth-longest running show in Broadway history. The original cast starred Mary Martin as Nellie Forbush, and opera star Ezio Pinza as Emile de Becque. Also in the cast were Juanita Hall, Myron McCormick (both of whom won Tony Awards for their performances) and Betta St. John. Although Forbush and de Beque were already fully developed characters in Michener's stories, at some point during the creation of South Pacific, Rodgers, Hammerstein and Logan began to adapt the roles specifically to the talents of Martin and Pinza and to tailor the music for their voices. The production won ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Libretto, Best Director and all four acting awards. In June 1951 Martin was replaced by Martha Wright, who performed the role for 1,047 performances until the show closed in January 1954.U.S. tour A U.S. tour ran for almost five years in 118 cities from April 1950 through March 26, 1955.Janet Blair starred as Nellie Forbush, followed by Jeanne Bal and Iva Withers. Emile de Becque was played by Richard Eastham, Webb Tilton and Alan Gerard.Original West End production London's West End production ran from 1951 to 1953 at the Drury Lane Theatre. It starred Mary Martin and Wilbur Evans, and featured Muriel Evans, Peter Grant and Ivor Emmanuel. 2001 West End revival The Royal National Theatre (Olivier Theatre) in London staged a limited run of the musical from December 2001 through April 2002 timed to celebrate the centenary of Richard Rodgers' birth. This production was directed by Trevor Nunn, with musical staging by Matthew Bourne and designs by John Napier. Nellie was performed by Lauren Kennedy and Emile was performed by the Australian actor Philip Quast.2005 Carnegie Hall concert On June 9 2005, a concert version of the musical, edited down to two hours but including all of the songs and the full musical score, was presented live at Carnegie Hall. It starred Reba McEntire as Nellie Forbush, Brian Stokes Mitchell as Emile, Alec Baldwin as Luther Billis, and Lillias White as Bloody Mary. The stars had a full supporting cast. The production used Robert Russell Bennett's original orchestrations. This production was taped and telecast by PBS on April 26 2006.2007-08 UK tour A major new touring production of South Pacific opened in the UK at the Blackpool Grand Theatre on the August 28 2007. The tour is expected to finish at the Cardiff New Theatre in July 2008. The tour stars Helena Blackman as Nellie and Dave Willetts as Emile. The tour is produced by Peter Frosdick and Martin Dodd for UK Productions. The production is directed by Julian Woolford, with choreography by Chris Hocking. This production was most noted for its staging of the overture which charted Nellie's journey from Little Rock to the South Pacific. On entering the theatre, the audience first saw a map of the USA, not the theater of war.2008 Broadway revival The first Broadway revival of South Pacific began previews on March 1, 2008, with an official opening on April 3 at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre, directed by Bartlett Sher and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli with Kelli O'Hara as Nellie Forbush, Paulo Szot as Emile de Becque, and Matthew Morrison as Lt. Cable and featuring Danny Burstein and Loretta Ables Sayre. Among the favorable reviews for this production, Ben Brantley writes in the New York Times: "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. (Yes, the second act remains weaker than the first, but Mr. Sher almost makes you forget that.) All of the supporting performances, including those of the ensemble, feel precisely individualized, right down to how they wear Catherine Zuber's carefully researched period costumes. The revival won five Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical Revival, and garnered 11 Tony nominations, including best revival, director, choreographer, all four acting categories, and all four design categories. It won best revival and six other Tonys. The late Robert Russell Bennett was recognized for "his historic contribution to American musical theatre in the field of orchestrations, as represented on Broadway this season by Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific.


Act I

On a South Pacific island during World War II, Ngana and Jerome, two Polynesian children, sing "Dites-Moi", a charming French song. A naive U.S. Navy nurse from Arkansas, Ensign Nellie Forbush, falls in love with middle-aged French plantation owner, Emile de Becque, and his plantation. Even though everyone else is worried about the outcome of the war, Nellie explains to Emile that she's still "A Cockeyed Optimist". She and Emile are in love, but each wonders if the other reciprocates their feelings ("Twin Soliloquies"). Emile recalls how they met at a dinner given at the officers' club ("Some Enchanted Evening") and were immediately drawn to each other. Nellie returns back to the hospital, and Emile calls Ngana and Jerome to him, for they are his children.

Meanwhile, the restless American sailors, led by the entrepreneurial Seabee Luther Billis, lament the absence of women or combat to relieve their boredom. It's so boring that "Bloody Mary", a middle-aged Tonkinese (Vietnamese) grass skirt seller, is the girl they love. Billis wants to go to a nearby island, Bali Ha'i, where the French Plantation owners have hidden their women and is off-limits to all but officers. He and the sailors proclaim that "There is Nothin' Like a Dame". Lieutenant Joe Cable of the U.S. Marine Corps arrives on the island to take part in a dangerous spy mission that might help turn the tide of the war against Japan. Bloody Mary tries to convince him that "Bali Ha'i" is his special island.

After learning more about Emile's past and realizing how little she knows about him, Nellie tells the other nurses "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" and break up with Emile. She meets Emile unexpectedly and realizes that she loves him. He invites her to a party on Friday to meet all his friends. Nellie eagerly accepts, and after Emile returns home, she declares that she's in love with "A Wonderful Guy".

Cable's mission involves reconnaissance on a Japanese held island. The only candidate as a guide is Emile, who refuses due to his love for Nellie. Cable is told to go on leave until an opportunity arises. Since only officers can sign out boats, Billis convinces Lt. Cable to accompany him to Bali Ha'i. There Bloody Mary introduces Cable to her teenage daughter, Liat. The two fall in love, just as Bloody Mary planned. Cable tells Liat she is so beautiful that she is "Younger than Springtime". The two couples – Nellie and Emile, Liat and Joe – gain deepening affection, and marriages are proposed. But Nellie has deep-seated ethnic prejudices, and Emile tells her after his party that he is a widower with biracial children, Ngana and Jerome, from his marriage to a Polynesian wife. Nellie, torn between her long-held prejudice and her heartfelt love for Emile, refuses to marry Emile.

Act II

Liat and Joe spend more time together, and Mary urges them to get married and talk "Happy Talk" all day long. Joe says he cannot marry Liat because she is Tonkinese (Vietnamese). Joe's refusal infuriates Mary. Though aware of and ashamed of their bigotry, Nellie and Joe are prisoners of their upbringings: they think they have no options. Nellie is responsible for the Thanksgiving Show for all the sailors, and she does a vaudeville turn dressed as a sailor singing the praises of his "Honey Bun". Billis plays Honey Bun, dressed in a grass skirt and coconut shell bra.

Emile, who loves Nellie, asks Joe why he and Nellie have such prejudices. Joe replies that it's not something you're born with; "You've Got to be Carefully Taught". Emile imagines what could have been, lamenting "This Nearly Was Mine". Dejected and with nothing to lose, Emile agrees to join Joe on his dangerous mission behind Japanese lines. The two send back reports on enemy forces which the Americans use to intercept and destroy Japanese convoys. "Operation Alligator" gets underway, and the previously idle sailors, including the reluctant Luther Billis, go off to battle. Joe is killed; Emile narrowly escapes a similar fate. Nellie, meanwhile, spends time with Ngana and Jerome and learns to overcome her prejudices. Emile returns home to the now-understanding Nellie and his – soon to be their – children, and they join in "Dites-Moi" (reprise).


Act I

  • Overture - Orchestra
  • Dites-Moi - Ngana and Jerome
  • A Cockeyed Optimist - Nellie
  • Twin Soliloquies - Nellie and Emile
  • Some Enchanted Evening - Emile
  • Dites-Moi (Reprise) - Ngana and Jerome
  • Bloody Mary - Sailors, Seabees, and Marines
  • There Is Nothin' Like a Dame - Sailors, Seabees, and Marines
  • Bali Ha'i - Bloody Mary, Billis, and Cable
  • I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair - Nellie and Nurses
  • Some Enchanted Evening (Reprise) - Emile and Nellie
  • A Wonderful Guy - Nellie and Nurses
  • Bali Ha'i (Reprise) - French Girls
  • Younger Than Springtime - Cable
  • Bali Ha'i (Reprise) - French Girls
  • A Wonderful Guy (Reprise) - Nellie and Emile
  • Twin Soliloquies (Reprise) - Nellie and Emile
  • A Cockeyed Optimist (Reprise) - Emile and Nellie
  • I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair (Reprise) - Emile
  • Finale: Act I (Some Enchanted Evening) - Emile
Act II

  • Entr'acte - Orchestra
  • Happy Talk - Bloody Mary
  • Younger Than Springtime (Reprise) - Cable
  • Honey Bun - Nellie and Girls
  • You've Got to Be Carefully Taught - Cable
  • This Nearly Was Mine - Emile
  • A Wonderful Guy (Reprise) - Nurses
  • Some Enchanted Evening (Reprise) - Nellie
  • Honey Bun (Reprise) - Sailors, Seabees, and Marines
  • Finale (Dites-Moi) - Nellie, Ngana, Jerome, and Emile
Additional songs

  • "Loneliness of Evening" - sung by Emile, was in the original score but was cut before the first Broadway production. It is, however, an instrumental on some LP versions and was also sung by the Prince (Stuart Damon) in the 1965 production of Cinderella.
  • "My Girl Back Home" - sung by Lieutenant Cable, was in the original score but was cut before the first Broadway production. It is on some LP versions and is in the movie version. It has been re-instated for the 2008 Broadway revival.
  • "Bright Canary Yellow" - sung by Nellie and Emile, was included in the earlier version between "Dites-Moi" and "A Cockeyed Optimist".
  • "Bloody Mary (Reprise)" - sung by Sailors, Seabees, and Marines, was included in the original libretto after "Bloody Mary" but was later cut.
  • "Now Is the Time" § - sung by Emile, was later replaced by "Some Enchanted Evening (Reprise)". This song was included in the 2002 London revival of the musical.
  • "Will You Marry Me?" - sung by Emile, replacing the cut song "Now Is the Time", which, in turn, was replaced by "Some Enchanted Evening" (Reprise). "Will You Marry Me?" was re-used in the 1955 musical Pipe Dream.
  • "Suddenly Lovely" § - sung by Cable, was replaced by "Younger Than Springtime". The melody of this song was eventually re-used in Getting To Know You when Rodgers and Hammerstein were writing The King and I.
  • "Now Is the Time (Reprise)" § - sung by Emile and Cable, was cut in favor of "This Nearly Was Mine".
  • Some LP versions feature a track of Ezio Pinza singing "Bali Ha'i", but he did not sing it in the stage version; neither was it written for his character (Emile). "Loneliness of Evening" and "My Girl Back Home" were recorded by Mary Martin, backed by Percy Faith's Orchestra, and released as a single in 1951. On some later CD versions of the cast album these two songs are included as bonus tracks along with Pinza's "Bali Ha'i".

§ Rodgers and Hammerstein asked Michener about removing the song "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" because of its biting comments about racial prejudice but Michener replied that if they dropped the song they would be eliminating the story's dramatic foundation.

Critical reception and success

The first out-of-town tryout for South Pacific began on March 7, 1949, at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. After the first performance, Mark Todd, a leading theatre critic, told Mary Martin, who was playing Nellie, not to take the show to New York. Martin was shocked and asked why, and Todd replied, "Because it's too... good for them!" The show moved on to Boston, where it was so successful that playwright George S. Kaufman complained (facetiously) that people in Boston were so excited about the show they shoved money under the doors of the Shubert Theatre. "They don't actually want anything," he joked. "They just want to push money under the doors."

South Pacific opened on Broadway with $400,000 in advance sales. The New York Times and other newspapers published glowing reviews of the show; one critic called it "South Terrific". People were so anxious to obtain tickets that columnist Leonard Lyons wrote a column about the lengths people had gone to in getting them. Because "house seats" were being sold by scalpers for two hundred dollars or more, the attorney general's office threatened to close the show. However, the parties who provided the scalpers with the tickets were never identified, and the show ran without interference. The production grossed $2,635,000, with a $50,600 weekly gross, and ran for 1,925 performances. The national tour began in 1950 and grossed $3,000,000 in the first year making $1,500,000 in profit. The long-playing original cast album, priced at $4.85, sold more than a million copies.

South Pacific won ten Tony Awards, including best musical, best male performer (Pinza), female performer (Martin), best supporting male performer (McCormick), best supporting female performer (Hall), best director (Logan), best book, and best score. In 1950, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. However, the Pulitzer Prize was given to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein only; Joshua Logan was not recognized for his work on the libretto until later. Over time, the critical assessments of the musical have not been tempered. "With South Pacific, Rodgers and Hammerstein rose to new towering heights of success, both commercially and artistically.... The veteran producer Arthur Hammerstein called it 'the greatest musical show Broadway had ever seen, perfect in every respect.' The critic Richard Watts, Jr., described it as 'a thrilling and exultant musical play, an utterly captivating work of theatrical art.' Critic John Simon wrote: "Many are the knowledgeable and discriminating people for whom Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, brilliantly co-written and staged by Joshua Logan, was the greatest musical of all.


Note: see for a complete listing and details of the various recordings
Columbia Records recorded the overture and most of the songs from the original production in 1949, using members of the cast including Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin. Drawn from the original masters, Columbia released the album in both the new LP format and on 78-rpm discs. When Sony acquired Columbia, a CD was released from the previously unused magnetic tape recording from the same 1949 sessions in New York City. The CD includes the bonus tracks: "Loneliness Of Evening" (Recorded by Mary Martin, later used in second TV version of Cinderella); "My Girl Back Home" (Recorded by Mary Martin); "Bali Ha'i" (cover version by Enzio Pinza); and Symphonic Scenario for Concert Orchestra (original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett). The film soundtrack was released on the RCA Victor label on March 19, 1958 (ASIN: B00004ZDXK).

In 1986 José Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa made a studio recording of South Pacific, the sessions of which were filmed as a documentary, similar in style to Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story documentary a year earlier which featured the same stars. It also featured Sarah Vaughan (as Bloody Mary) and Mandy Patinkin.

The 2001 Royal National Theatre revival cast album was recorded on First Night Records and included the cut song "Now Is the Time".

The 2008 Broadway revival cast album was released on May 27, 2008 from Masterworks Broadway.

Film and television versions

South Pacific was made into a 1958 film of the same name that topped the box office that year, and the 65 mm Todd-AO cinematography (by Leon Shamroy) was nominated for an Academy Award. The film was also nominated for and won the music-adaptation-and-sound award.

An elaborate Australian made television production of the show was made in 2001. It starred Glenn Close and Harry Connick Jr.. This version omitted the well-known song "Happy Talk" and cut "Bali Hai" in half, among other changes. The film was criticized because it changed the order of the songs and because Rade Šerbedžija, unlike all the previous Emiles, did not have an operatic singing voice. Also, the character of Nellie Forbush was conceived as a young and inexperienced woman fresh out of nursing school, in military service. Glenn Close was felt by many to be too old to play the role of someone who describes herself in song as "immature and incurably green."

The 2001 Royal National Theatre revival was filmed by the National Video Archive of Performance, V&A Theatre Collections. It can be viewed at the Theatre Collections reading room at Blythe House in Olympia, London.

An American television network contacted Michener with the idea of him introducing an anthology series with the title of the book, but Michener discovered that he no longer had the rights to the title after he sold it to the playwrights. He did provide his name to the 1959 Adventures in Paradise American television series.

Cultural references

The 1954 film Men of the Fighting Lady, set during the Korean War, based on material written by James A. Michener, has a prologue where Michener is introduced to a Navy flight surgeon. The surgeon comments, "Mr. Michener, I fought in the South Pacific in World War II, but I never realized how much fun it had been until I read your book!" Michener replies, "I never realized how much fun it was either, until Rodgers and Hammerstein set it to music!"

The musical is mentioned in Billy Joel's song "We Didn't Start the Fire" and in a season 3 episode of The O.C..

Awards and nominations

Original Broadway (1949)

1950 Pulitzer Prize for DramaTony Award

  • Best Musical (winner)
  • Libretto (winner)
  • Best Original Score (winner)
  • Best Actor in a Musical (Ezio Pinza) (winner)
  • Best Actress in a Musical (Mary Martin) (winner)
  • Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Myron McCormick) (winner)
  • Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Juanita Hall) (winner)
  • Producer (Musical) (Hammerstein, Rodgers, Hayward, Logan) (winners)
  • Best Director (Logan) (winner)
  • Best Scenic Design (Jo Mielziner) (winner) (awarded in 1949 for a number of productions)

2001 London revival

Olivier Award

  • Best Actor in a Musical (Philip Quast) (winner)

2001 Television film

Emmy Award

  • Outstanding Music Direction (Paul Bogaev) (nominee)
  • Outstanding Single Camera Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or a Movie (Guntis Sics) (Rick Ash) (Joe Earle) (Joel Moss) (nominee)

2008 Broadway revival

Drama Desk Award



  • The World Almanac and Book of Facts, New York, 1966, New York World-Telegram
  • Bauch, Marc. The American Musical. Marburg, Germany: Tectum Verlag, 2003. ISBN 382888458X described here
  • Bauch, Marc. Themes and Topics of the American Musical after World War II. Marburg, Germany: Tectum Verlag, 2001. ISBN 3828811418 described here
  • Nolan, Frederick. The Sound of Their Music: The Story of Rodgers & Hammerstein. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, New York, 2002. ISBN 1-55783-473-3

External links

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