"South Pacific" by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein 2nd and Joshua Logan
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South Pacific is a musical with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan. The plot draws from James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 book Tales of the South Pacific, combining elements of several of the stories in that book. The musical centers on an American nurse stationed at a U.S. Naval base during World War II who falls in love with an expatriate French plantation owner but struggles to accept his mixed-race children. A second romance concerns a U.S. lieutenant who falls in love with a young Asian woman. The issue of racial prejudice is candidly explored throughout the musical, most pointedly in the song, "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught".

South Pacific is considered to be one of the greatest Broadway musicals. The musical premiered in 1949 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950. Several of its songs, including "Bali Ha'i", "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair", "Some Enchanted Evening", "Happy Talk", "Younger Than Springtime" and "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy", have become popular standards. The Broadway production won ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Libretto, and it is the only musical production to have won all four Tony Awards for acting. The show was a critical and box office hit and has since enjoyed many successful revivals and tours, spawning a 1958 film and other adaptations. The 2008 Broadway revival was a strong success, winning seven Tonys including Best Musical Revival.

Synopsis

The action of the play takes place on two islands in the South Pacific during the second World War. There is a week's lapse of time between the two acts.

Act One

On a South Pacific island during World War II, two half-Polynesian children, Ngana and Jerome, happily sing as they play together ("Dites-Moi"). Ensign Nellie Forbush, a naïve U.S. Navy nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, has fallen in love with Emile de Becque, a middle-aged French plantation owner, though she has known him only briefly. Even though everyone else is worried about the outcome of the war, Nellie tells Emile that she is sure everything will turn out all right ("Cockeyed Optimist"). Emile also loves Nellie, and each wonders if the other reciprocates his/her feelings ("Twin Soliloquies"). Emile expresses his feelings for Nellie, recalling how they met at the officers' club dance and instantly were attracted to each other ("Some Enchanted Evening"). Nellie, promising to think about their relationship, returns to the hospital. Emile calls Ngana and Jerome to him, revealing to the audience that they are his children, unbeknownst to Nellie.

Meanwhile, the restless American seabees, led by crafty Luther Billis, the sailors' leading comic relief, lament the absence of women to relieve their boredom. Navy nurses are commissioned officers and thus off-limits to enlisted men. There is one civilian woman on the island, nicknamed "Bloody Mary", a sassy middle-aged Tonkinese vendor of grass skirts, who engages the sailors in sarcastic, flirtatious banter as she tries to sell them her wares ("Bloody Mary"). Billis yearns to visit the nearby island of Bali Ha'i — which is off-limits to all but officers — supposedly to witness a Boar's Tooth Ceremony; the other sailors josh him, saying that his real motivation is to see the young French women there. Billis and the sailors further lament their lack of feminine companionship ("There is Nothing Like a Dame").

U.S. Marine Lieutenant Joseph Cable arrives on the island from Guadalcanal, having been sent to take part in a dangerous spy mission whose success could turn the tide of the war against Japan. Bloody Mary tries to persuade Cable to visit "Bali Ha'i", mysteriously telling him that it is his special island. Billis, seeing an opportunity, urges Cable to go. Cable meets with his commanding officers, Captain George Brackett and Commander William Harbison, who plan to ask Emile to help with the mission because he used to live on the island where the mission will take place. They ask Nellie to help them find out more about Emile's background, for example, his politics and why he left France. They have heard, for instance, that Emile committed a murder, and this might make him less than desirable for such a mission.

After thinking a bit more about Emile and deciding she has become attracted on the basis of little knowledge of him, Nellie tells the other nurses that she intends to spurn him ("I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair"). Emile arrives unexpectedly and invites Nellie to a party where he will introduce her to his friends. Seeing how much he cares about her, Nellie realizes she is still in love with him, and accepts his invitation. Emile again declares his love and asks Nellie to marry him. When she mentions politics, he speaks of universal freedom, and describes fleeing France after resisting a local bully and choking him to death in self-defense. After hearing this, Nellie agrees to marry Emile. After he exits, Nellie joyously declares her love for Emile ("I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy").

Cable's mission is to land on a Japanese-held island and report on Japanese ship movements. The Navy officers ask Emile to be Cable's guide, but he refuses their request because of his hopes for a new life with Nellie. Commander Harbison, the executive officer, tells Cable to go on leave until the mission can take place. Billis convinces Lt. Cable to take him to Bali Ha'i. There, Billis participates in the native ceremony, while Bloody Mary introduces Cable to her beautiful daughter, Liat, with whom he must communicate in French. Believing that Liat's only chance at a better life is to marry an American officer, Mary leaves Liat alone with Cable. The two are instantly attracted to each other and make love ("Younger Than Springtime"). Billis and the rest of the crew are ready to leave the island, yet must wait for Cable who, unbeknownst to them, is with Liat ("Bali Ha'i" (Reprise)). Bloody Mary proudly tells Billis that Cable is going to be her son-in-law.

Meanwhile, after Emile's party, Emile and Nellie reflect on how happy they are to be in love (Reprises of "A Wonderful Guy", "Twin Soliloquies", "Cockeyed Optimist" and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair"). Emile introduces Nellie to Jerome and Ngana. Though she finds them charming, she is shocked when Emile reveals that they are his children by a native woman, now deceased. Nellie is unable to overcome her deep-seated racial prejudices and tearfully leaves Emile, after which he reflects sadly on what might have been ("Some Enchanted Evening" (Reprise)).

Act Two

It is Thanksgiving Day. The seabees and nurses dance in a holiday revue titled "Thanksgiving Follies". In the past week, an epidemic of malaria has hit the island of Bali Ha'i. Having visited Bali Ha'i often to be with Liat, Cable is also ill, but escapes from the hospital to be with Liat. As Liat and Cable spend more time together, Bloody Mary is delighted. She encourages them to continue their carefree life on the island ("Happy Talk") and urges them to marry. Cable, aware of his family's prejudices, says he cannot marry a Tonkinese girl. Bloody Mary furiously drags her distraught daughter away, telling Cable that Liat must now marry a much older French plantation owner instead. Cable laments that Liat is no longer part of his life ("Younger Than Springtime" [Reprise]).

For the final number of the Thanksgiving Follies, Nellie performs a comedy burlesque dressed as a sailor singing the praises of "his" sweetheart ("Honey Bun"). Billis plays Honey Bun, dressed in a blond wig, grass skirt and coconut-shell bra. After the show, Emile asks Nellie to reconsider. She insists that she cannot feel the same way about him since she knows about his children's Polynesian mother.

Emile asks Cable why he and Nellie have such prejudices. Cable, filled with self-loathing, replies that "it's not something you're born with", yet it is an ingrained part of their upbringing ("You've Got to Be Carefully Taught"). He also vows that if he gets out of the war alive, he won't go home to the United States. Emile imagines what might have been ("This Nearly Was Mine"). Dejected and feeling that he has nothing to lose, he agrees to join Cable on his dangerous mission. The mission begins with plenty of air support. Offstage, Billis stows away on the plane, falls out, and ends up in the ocean waiting to be rescued; the massive rescue operation inadvertently becomes a diversion that allows Emile and Cable to land on the other side of the island undetected. The two send back reports on Japanese ships' movements in the "Slot"; American aircraft intercept and destroy the Japanese ships. When the Japanese Zeros strafe the Americans' position, Emile narrowly escapes, but Cable is killed.

Nellie learns of Cable's death and that Emile is missing. She realizes that she was foolish to reject Emile because of the race of his children's mother. Bloody Mary and Liat come to Nellie asking where Cable is; Mary explains that Liat refuses to marry anyone but him. Nellie comforts Liat. Cable and Emile's espionage work has made it possible for a major offensive, "Operation Alligator", to begin. The previously idle sailors, including Billis, go off to battle.

Nellie spends time with Jerome and Ngana and soon comes to love them. While the children are teaching her to sing "Dites-Moi," suddenly Emile's voice joins them. Emile has returned, to discover that Nellie has overcome her prejudices and has fallen in love with his children. Emile, Nellie and the children rejoice ("Dites-Moi" (Reprise)).

Musical Numbers

Act One

Title Characters
Dites-Moit Pourquoi Ngana and Jerome
A Cockeyed Optimist Nellie
Twin Soliloquies Nellie and Emile
Some Enchanted Evening Emile
Bloody Mary is the Girl I Love Sailors, Seabees, Marines
There's Nothing Like a Dame Billis, Sailors, Seabees, Marines
Bali Ha'i Bloody Mary
I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair Nellie and Nurses
I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy Nellie and Nurses
Young Than Springtime Cable
Finale Nellie and Emile

Act Two

Title Characters
Soft Shoe Dance Nurses and Seabees
Happy Talk Bloody Mary, Liat and Cable
Honey Bun Nellie and Billis
You've Got To Be Taught Cable
This Nearly Was Mine Emile
Reprise: Some Enchanted Evening Nellie
Finale Company

Characters

(In Order of Appearance)

  • Ngana
  • Jerome
  • Henry
  • Ensign Nellie Forbush
  • Emile de Becque
  • Bloody Mary
  • Bloody Mary's Assistant
  • Abner
  • Stewpot
  • Luther Billis
  • Professor
  • Lt. Joseph Cable, U.S.M.C.
  • Capt. George Brackett, U.S.N.
  • Cmdr. William Harbison, U.S.N.
  • Yeoman Herbert Quale
  • Sgt. Kenneth Johnson
  • Seabee Richard West
  • Seabee Morton Wise
  • Seaman Tom O'Brien
  • Radio Operator Bob McCaffrey
  • Marine Cpt. Hamilton Steeves
  • Staff Sgt. Thomas Hassinger
  • Seaman James Hayes
  • Lt. Genevieve Marshall
  • Ensign Dinah Murphy
  • Ensign Janet MacGregor
  • Ensign Cora MacRae
  • Ensign Sue Yaeger
  • Ensign Lisa Minelli
  • Ensign Connie Walewska
  • Ensign Pamela Whitmore
  • Ensign Bessie Noonan
  • Liat
  • Marcell, Henry's Assistant
  • Lt. Buzz Adams

Production History

Date Venue Company
Sep 13, 2012 Princess Theatre
Aug 8, 2012 Sydney Opera House
Aug 15, 2011 Barbican Theatre
Sep 18, 2009 Golden Gate Theatre
Jul 2008 Cardiff New Theatre
Apr 3, 2008 Vivian Beaumont Theatre
Aug 28, 2007 Blackpool Grand Theatre
Jun 9, 2005 Carnegie Hall
Dec 2001 Olivier Theatre
Jan 20, 1988 Prince of Wales Theatre
1987 New York City Center
1967 Lincoln Center
Jun 8, 1962 Melody Top Theatre
Apr 24, 1957 New York City Center NYCC Light Opera Co.
May 4, 1955 New York City Center NYCC Light Opera Co.
Jun 29, 1953 Broadway Theatre
Nov 1, 1951 Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Apr 7, 1949 Majestic Theatre
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