THE story for Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1949 musical, South Pacific, is drawn from a Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel by James A. Michener, entitled Tales of the South Pacific, which dealt largely with the issue of racism. It is considered by most critics to be among the greatest musicals of the twentieth century. The original Broadway production won ten Tony Awards, including all four acting awards, and many of its songs went on to have a life of their own outside of the musical, including "Some Enchanted Evening," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair," "Happy Talk," "Bali Ha'i," "Younger than Springtime," and "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy." It inspired a 1958 film adaptation and has enjoyed numerous successful revivals, including Broadway revivals in 1955 and 2008, and West End revivals in 1988 and 2001. The original production featured Mary Martin as Ensign Nellie Forbush and opera star Ezio Pinza, as Emile de Becque.
The musical opens on a South Pacific island, during World War II, where a naive young Navy nurse from Arkansas becomes romantically involved with Emile de Becque, a French plantation owner. In spite of the dangers of the ongoing war, Nellie sings to Emile that she is "A Cockeyed Optimist." And in "Some Enchanted Evening," Emile recalls fondly their first meeting at an officer's club dinner. At the same time, the American sailors are growing restless and bored without and combat to keep them active or women to entertain them in their downtime ("There is Nothin' Like a Dame"). One sailor, Luther Billis, hatches a plan to travel to Bali Ha'i, a nearby island where the French plantation owners are believed to have hidden their women. Meanwhile, a U.S. marine, Lieutenant Joe Cable, arrives on the island undercover on a dangerous spy mission crucial to the outcome of the war. A middle-aged grass skirt seller nicknamed "Bloody Mary," one of the few women on the island, takes an immediate interest in Cable.
Nellie, on the other hand, has been reconsidering her relationship with Emile and decides to break up with him ("I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair"). However, when she bumps in to him unexpectedly, she realizes she can't dump him because she's in love with him. Accepting an invitation to meet all of his friends and associates, she sings "I'm In Love With a Wonderful Guy." About this time, Cable, who needs to run reconnaissance on a nearby Japanese-held island, approaches Emile for help, but the plantation owner refuses and Cable is told to go on leave until he is able to continue his mission. With nothing else to do, Cable allows Billis to convince him to travel to Bali Ha'i. On the island, Bloody Mary introduces Cable to a young Tonkinese girl, Liat, who turns out to be her daughter. She had been planning a love match, and it turns out to be a successful one as Cable and Liat quickly fall in love. Meanwhile, Emile and Nellie have become engaged, but when she learns that Emile has children with a dark-skinned Polynesian woman, Nellie's racial prejudice surfaces.
As Act II opens, the relationship between Liat and Cable is growing more serious, but like Nellie, Cable exhibits some signs of racism, fearing what his friends and family will think if he marries a dark-skinned woman. When he finally admits that he won't marry a Vietnamese girl, Bloody Mary is furious and drags her distraught daughter away, swearing that she will marry her off to some other man. Although somewhat aware and ashamed of their bigotry, both Cable and Nellie seem prisoners to their social conditioning and believe that they have no real choice in the matter.
Depressed over his rejected proposal, Emile offers to join Cable on his spy mission behind Japanese lines. Confronted by the plantation owner about his prejudices, Cable admits that it's just how he was raised ("Carefully Taught"). The mission is successful, and the intelligence received results in an American victory and the destruction of Japanese convoys, but Cable is killed in the ensuing battle. Touched by Liat's grief when she learns of her lover's death, Nellie, who imagines that Emile has also died, decides to put aside her prejudice and at least learn to love Emile's children if she can't have their father. When Emile unexpectedly returns home, Nellie is overjoyed and agrees to marry.
Purchase The Cast Album · Sheet Music · The Movie (DVD) · The Movie (VHS)