|First posted 4/7/2012; updated 3/30/2019.|
South Pacific (cast/soundtrack)
Opened on Broadway: 4/7/1949
Cast Album Charted: 5/21/1949
Soundtrack Released: 5/19/1958
U.S. Peak: #169-C, 131-S
UK Peak: #1115-S
U.S. Sales (in millions): 3.0 c, 8.0 s
UK Sales (in millions): -- c, 1.8 s
Total Sales (in millions): 3.0 c, 9.8 s
Genre: show tunes
C cast, S soundtrack
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Above track listing based on 2000 Decca reissue. Songs with an asterisk (*) are on original 1946 cast album.
c Songs unique to cast album.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s South Pacific is considered “one of the greatest Broadway musicals” W-C and “one of the most beloved musicals ever to hit the stage.” AZ It was a massive hit, running 1,925 performances on Broadway AMG-C and another 802 in London. MK Its nearly five-year Broadway run was “longer than any musical before it except Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!.” AMG-C “The appeal is simple: a collection of stunning compositions…and characters with a simple though cohesive through-line.” AZ
At the time, a critic for the New York Daily Mirror wrote that it was “likely to establish a new trend in musicals” W-C and that “every number is so outstanding that it is difficult to decide which will be the most popular.” W-C The New York World-Telegram review said it was “the ultimate modern blending of music and popular theatre to date, with the finest kind of balance between story and song, and hilarity and heartbreak.” W-C
Joshua Logan, a stage and film director and also a World War II veteran, read James Michener’s 1947 novel Tales of the South Pacific and decided to adapt it for the stage; he wound up as the musical’s director and producer. Rodgers & Hammerstein were tapped to write.” W-C Initially, “the musical was to center on the story ‘Fo’ Dolla’, about a love affair between a Polynesian girl and a stuffy American officer.” MK As Rogers recounted, however, he and Hammerstein decided that it “would look too much like a rehash of Madame Butterfly” MK and opted to make it secondary to “another story from the book, ‘Our Heroine,’ about a nurse from Arkansas who falls in love” MK with “an expatriate French plantation owner with a dark past.” W-C To add “comic leavening” MK alongside these “wartime romances complicated by racial issues,” AMG-C R&H added a third story, “A Boar’s Tooth,” MK about “Luther Billis, a womanizing sailor.” W-C
“The dashing former Metropolitan Opera bass Ezio Pinza” AZ was tapped to play the role of Emile deBecque, the French plantation owner.” W-C Of his eventual South Pacific performance, The New York Times’ Brooks Atkinson said, “Mr. Pinza’s bass voice is the most beautiful that has been heard on a Broadway stage for an eon or two.”
Filling the role of “the heartily feminine American nurse” AZ is “the lovely, girlish Mary Martin” AZ who was “a musical comedy star…[and] a Broadway favorite” MK noted for performances in Peter Pan and Annie Get Your Gun. AZ The New York Post’s Richard Watts, Jr. said this of her performance in South Pacific: “Nothing I have ever seen her do prepared me for the loveliness, humor, gift for joyous characterization, and sheer lovableness of her portrayal of Nellie Forbush…Hers is a completely irresistible performance.” W-C
“The issue of racial prejudice is sensitively and candidly explored in several plot threads.” W-C “Nellie struggles to accept Emile’s mixed-race children. Another American serviceman, Lieutenant Cable, struggles with the prejudice that he would face if he were to marry an Asian woman.” W-C The song You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught “attacks the issue with a vehemence never before (and seldom since) seen on the stage.” MK It was initially “criticized as too controversial for the musical stage and called indecent and pro-communist.” W-C
“Critical response to the Broadway opening, April 7, 1949, at the Majestic Theater, was probably as uniformly ecstatic as for any show in history.” MK “Acclaim heaped up: nine Tony awards, including Musical, Book, Score, and Direction, along with acting kudos for Martin, Pinza, Myron McCormick (who played Billis) and Juanita Hall (Bloody Mary). Nine Donaldson awards. The New York Drama Critics Circle award for Best Musical. And the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.” MK
The accompanying cast album tapped Pinza and Martin and other cast members. It proved immensely successful, spending 69 weeks atop the Billboard charts – the most weeks spent at #1 in the chart’s history. When the soundtrack to the 1958 film was released, it accomplished a similar feat by becoming the most successful #1 album in the history of the U.K. charts – with 115 weeks on top. Collectively, the cast album and soundtrack have sold nearly 13 million worldwide.