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RISE & SHINE BROADWAY FANS!! Live Theater is making its triumphant comeback following a really rough year. To keep the legacy alive and celebrate The 74th Annual Tony Awards just 33 DAYS AWAY, we at New York Broadway Tours are playing you the best of Broadway’s biggest night on our TOP 50 TONY AWARDS COUNTDOWN. So many more legendary performances to come. Here come more Broadway favorites!!
At # 33 on our countdown, we take you to a tropical Island. There, we meet 2 interracial couples and their lives threatened in the midst of World War II. These are the tales of racial prejudice coming from the….. South Pacific. Based on James A. Michener’s best-selling Pulitzer Prize winning book of short stories TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC, the show features a notable score by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II along with a book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan.
From the 2008 telecast, Tony winners Kelli O’Hara as “Nellie Forbush” and Paulo Szot as “Emille De Becque”, along with Tony nominee (again this year) Danny Burstein as “Luther Billis”, and the cast of the recent Lincoln Center Theater revival perform a medley of some of the musical’s notable signature songs including….. THERE’S NOTHING LIKE A DAME, SOME ENCHANTED EVENING, and I’M IN LOVE WITH A WONDERFUL GUY.
SOUTH PACIFIC was conceived by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II in the early 1940’s. They had just come off the success of OKLAHOMA and Carousel and their last show ALLEGRO flopped. They needed to make a comeback wanting to make another musical hit. One day, writer and director Joshua Logan and producer Leland Hayward came across James A. Michener’s best-selling Pulitzer Prize winning book TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC. Logan recommended it to Hammerstein, who read it and spoke to Rodgers who initially refused. However, the team came to a compromise….. Rodgers & Hammerstein agreed to do the project so long as they had majority control, to which Hayward grudgingly agreed. After a little competition in securing the rights, the team immediately began writing and hiring their full creative team. Developing the musical had its various challenges to have that perfect blend of drama along with the comic relief bits. At the same time of casting, Rodgers & Hammerstein slowly began to write specifically for the performers. The pieces were slowly starting coming in.
The show had its world premiere in New Haven, CT in 1949. A few months later, it transferred to Boston. Audiences loved the show but word needed to be done. The original running time of the show lasted almost 3 ½ hours. Scenes and dialogue were cut. With changes done, the show was ready for the Great Bright Way.
SOUTH PACIFIC debuted on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre (before later transferring to the Broadway Theatre) where it ran for 1,925 performances. It was a huge smash!!! In addition, the show held….at the time…. the record as the 2nd Longest Running Show in Broadway History after Rodgers & Hammerstein‘s other big hit OKLAHOMA. Under the direction and choreography by Joshua Logan, the cast was led by….
Mary Martin (later Martha Wright and Clorish Leahman) as “Nellie Forbush”,
Ezio Pinza (later Roger Rico, Ray Middleton and George Britton) as “Emille De Becque”,
Myron McKormick as “Luther Billis”,
Juanita Hall (later Odette Mytirl, Musa Williams, and Diosa Costello) as “Bloody Mary”,
William Tabbert as “Lt. Joseph Cable”,
Betta St. John (later Irma Sandre) as “Liat”.
The original production was nominated and won all 10 of its Tony Awards in 1950 including BEST MUSICAL and being the first and only musical to win in all 4 of its acting categories. The show also made history as one of the first musicals ever to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Following its success on Broadway, SOUTH PACIFIC went to wow audiences around the world including a North American National Tour, in London’s West End (featuring Mary Martin), and Australia. It also was a popular show to be performed during Summer Stock Theater.
The show would go on to be revived several times on the New York stage. The first revival happened in 1955 at New York City for a limited 15 performance engagement. Under the direction of Charles Atkin, the cast was led by….
Sandra Deel as “Nellie Forbush”,
Richard Collett as “Emmie De Becque”,
Henry Slate as “Luther Billis”,
Sylvia Syms as “Bloody Mary”,
Herb Banke as “Lt. Joseph Cable”,
Carol Lawrence as “Liat”.
It did so well, this production returned to New York City Center twice for 2 ENCORE engagements.
Other productions in New York included a staging at the New York City Opera in 1987. At the same time, it continued to launch more productions around the world.
The most recent and first ON Broadway revival of SOUTH PACIFIC happened in 2008 with a legendary production from Lincoln Center Theatre. It played at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre for 37 previews and 966 regular performances. Under the direction of Bartlett Sher and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, this cast was led by…..
Kelli O’Hara (later Laura Osnes and Laura Marie Duncan) as “Nellie Forbush”,
Paulo Szot (later David Pittsinger alternating and William Michaels) as “Emmie De Becque”,
Danny Burnstein as “Luther Billis”,
Loretta Ables Sayre as “Bloody Mary”,
Matthew Morrison (later Robert Lenzi and Andrew Samonsky) as “Lt. Joseph Cable”,
Li Jun Li as “Liat”.
This critically acclaimed revival of SOUTH PACIFIC went on to be nominated for 12 Tony Awards that year. It took home 8 including BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL. It also took home top honors at the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle Awards.
The Lincoln Center Theatre went on to also wow audiences in London’s West End, on tour across America, and around the world.
Along with its success on stage, SOUTH PACIFIC also captured various times on film various times,
The original film was released in 1958 from 20th Century Fox. This film was known for being filmed on location in Hawaii. Under the direction of the musical’s stage director Joshua Logan, the film starred….
Mitzi Gaynor as “Nellie Forbush”,
Rossano Brazzi (with the singing voice of Giorgio Tozzi) as “Emmie De Becque”,
Ray Walston as “Luther Billis”,
Juanita Hall reprising her Broadway portrayal (with the singing voice of Muriel Smith) as “Bloody Mary”,
John Kerr (with the singing voice of Bill Lee) as “Lt. Joseph Cable”,
France Nuyen as “Liat”.
The film was a smash hit grossing $7 million at the Box Office. It also went on to be nominated for several film Awards including a Golden Globe for BEST MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL. It also won an Oscar for BEST SOUND.
The 2nd filmed version of SOUTH PACIFIC was a made-for-TV film. It aired in 2001 on ABC. Under the direction of Richard Pearce, this TV movie cast was led by….
Glenn Close as “Nellie Forbush”,
Rade Sherbedgia as “Emmie De Becque”,
Robert Pastorelli as “Luther Billis”,
Lori Tan Chinn as “Bloody Mary”,
Harry Connick Jr as “Lt. Joseph Cable”,
Natalie Mendonza as “Liat”.
The TV film earned critical praise.
The 3rd time SOUTH PACIFIC was captured on film was in 2005. This was a filmed version of a one night only concert production at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall. It aired on PBS’ Award winning Great Performances the following year of 2006. Under the direction of Walter Bobbie and accompanied by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and conducted by Paul Gemignani, it featured an all-star cast consisting of..,
Reba McEntire as “Nellie Forbush”,
Brian Stokes Mitchell as “Emmie De Becque”,
Alec Baldwin as “Luther Billis”,
Lilias White as “Bloody Mary”,
Jason Daniely as “Lt. Joseph Cable”,
Ren Croney as “Liat”.
Finally in 2010 prior to its Broadway closing, the recent Tony winning Lincoln Center Theater revival was filmed for PBS’ Award winning Live From Lincoln Center series. From the stage of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, it featured the majority of the original cast.
FUN FACT: The only original cast member that was not present for that PBS filming was Matthew Morrison who at the time departed for filming his breakout TV show Glee. At the time of hiatus from filming, Morrison initially planned to SOUTH PACIFIC for the production’s final few weeks. However, he couldn’t do it due to the ongoing promotional tour for GLEE. The role of “Lt. Joseph Cable” for the filming was Morrison’s 2nd cover turned fulltime replacement Andrew Samonsky.
Today, SOUTH PACIFIC continues to be performed in schools, community, and regional theaters everywhere. There have also been various concert productions as well.
How timeless is this musical?
Mike Haber
Author: Mike Haber

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