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'South Pacific' is an Immediate Hit . . . Again

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Success for 'South Pacific':

When South Pacific opened April 3, 2008, at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, in the first full production of this Broadway musical since closing in 1954, it was an immediate hit with critics and audiences.

Ben Brantley, of The New York Times said, “South Pacific recreates the unabashed, unquestioning romance that American theatergoers had with the American book musical in the mid-20th century.”

Overnight, a limited run became an open engagement. It was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won seven, including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Actor, for opera singer Paulo Szot, a newcomer to Broadway.

More Then and More Now :

South Pacific had a lot going for it back in the day as it engaged audiences with dramatic, romantic, and comedic stories set against the backdrop of World War II.

Based on stories from a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Tales of the South Pacific, by James Michener, it featured the music of Richard Rodgers and lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II at the top of their game. They had ushered Broadway into a new era with Oklahoma! and had Carousel under their belts, as well.

Hammerstein Always Wanted More :

But Hammerstein was always interested in more than mere storytelling. More than 20 years earlier, he had used Show Boat, a musical far ahead of its time, to put the discussion of race on stage. With South Pacific, he did it again, and, along with co-book writer and director Joshua Logan, did it effectively. South Pacific won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Rodgers' Entrancing Music :

There is no doubt that Rodger’s music explains in large part why this musical has been entrancing audiences for 60 years, and why it’s a hit now. A mother and daughter sat next to me when I saw the show; one had come of age loving the musicals of the 1960s and 70s, the other was a member of the Rent generation. Yet both of these ladies literally sighed as several of the songs began, moved by the beauty or the emotion or both.

Relevent Today :

And much of the show’s current success is owed not only to the performance of Szot, but also of Kelli O’Hara and Danny Burstein, who both received Tony nominations.

Still, there is a relevance to the show. Almost 60 years after it first opened, the meaning of race and the importance of color is in the news daily. What does color matter? Where does race fit in our national discussions? As we watch characters who are as different as Boston and Little Rock confronted with their own prejudices, South Pacific confronts us . . . again. Surely, somewhere, Oscar Hammerstein must be nodding knowingly.

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