Opened on Broadway: 4 April 1949, Charted: 21 May 1949 C, Released: 19 May 1958 S
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) Overture / Dites-Moi / A Cockeyed Optimist / Twin Soliloquies / Some Enchanted Evening (#1 US, Perry Como, 1949) / Bloody Mary / My Girl Back Home ** / There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame / Bali Ha’i (#5 US, Perry Como, 1949) / I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair / A Wonderful Guy (#12 US, Margaret Whiting, 1949) / Younger Than Springtime (#30 US, Gordon MacRae, 1949) / Happy Talk / Honey Bun / You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught / This Nearly Was Mine / Finale: Dites-Mo (Reprise)
* In the pre-rock era, it was common for multiple versions of a song to chart. The charted versions of the songs above are NOT from the actual cast album or soundtrack, but are the most successful versions recorded by other artists as singles.
** Added to soundtrack and CD reissues of the cast album.
Sales (in millions): 8.0 S, 3.0 C US, 1.8 S UK, 9.8 S, 3.0 C world (includes US and UK)
Peak: 131-S, 169-C US, 1115-S UK
Rating: (C + S)
C cast album
Review: Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s fourth musical, 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.
Resources and Related Links:
- DMDB page for South Pacific
- DMDB Music Maker Encyclopedia entry for Richard Rodgers
- DMDB Music Maker Encyclopedia entry for Oscar Hammerstein II
- MK Marc Kirkeby, liner notes from CD of South Pacific: Original Broadway Cast Recording (1949/1998).
- AZ Amazon.com review by Paige La Grone of cast album
- AMG-C All Music Guide review by William Ruhlmann of cast album
- AMG-S All Music Guide review by William Ruhlmann of soundtrack
- W-C Wikipedia (Broadway production)
- W-S Wikipedia (film version)