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ClassicsOnline Home » RODGERS: South Pacific (Original Broadway Cast) (1949)
It’s all about historical perspective.
Nowadays,when we think of South Pacific,
we tend to view it simply as one more hit
musical from the golden team of Rodgers &
Hammerstein: a heartwarming show full of
But to the opening night audience, it was
much,much more than that.
When the curtain rose on 7 April 1949, not
even four full years had passed since the end of
the Second World War. A musical drama set in
the Pacific theatre, filled with soldiers loving,
fighting and dying,was bound to have an
emotional resonance that we can only guess at
By contrast, fourteen years passed from the
end of the Vietnam War in 1975 to its depiction
in Miss Saigon (1989). And if any musicals have
been written about Operation Desert Storm or
the recent conflict in Iraq,we’ve yet to see them.
Consequently, when you listen to this
original cast recording, the experience will be
intensified by heeding what’s between the lines
and behind the songs.
Nellie’s cheerful A Cockeyed Optimist, for
example, with its answer to the nay-sayers who
insist “that we’re done and we might as well be
dead” takes on new resonance when you
position it in a world where the first nuclear
bombs are about to be detonated.
Some Enchanted Evening isn’t just a
passionate love song. It’s about two people
surrounded by death who are hoping a personal
relationship could make sense of the insanity
And a ballad with the heart-rending
simplicity of Younger Than Springtime
acquires added pathos when you realize that the
solider who sweetly sings it is soon to die in
The magic of the original South Pacific is
that it didn’t have to overplay the war card,
because everyone in the audience remembered
what had happened all too well.
But for us to appreciate the depth of its
achievement now, it helps to put ourselves back
in that 1949 mindset as much as possible.
It also makes sense for us to realize just
where South Pacific sat in the timeline of the
considerable careers of Rodgers and
Each of them had already enjoyed success
with other partners before they came together
to write Oklahoma! in 1943.
Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) was the
elder of the two. As the grandson of famed
producer and theatre owner Oscar
Hammerstein, he came naturally to the business
and had written his first Broadway musical,
Always You, before his 25th birthday.
Through the years,Hammerstein wrote with
an assortment of collaborators, most notably
Sigmund Romberg, Rudolph Friml and Jerome
Kern. Although his prolific output included the
book and lyrics for hits like Rose Marie and
Show Boat, he also had more than his share of
flops. In fact, when Rodgers approached him
about a partnership, he hadn’t had a truly
successful show in over a decade.
Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) had his first
Broadway credit for Poor Little Ritz Girl in 1920,
shortly after his 18th birthday. His lyricist on the
project was Lorenz Hart, with whom he would
write two dozen other shows over the next 22
years. During that time, they created an enviable
catalogue of popular songs (“Where Or When”,
“My Funny Valentine”,“Johnny One Note”) and a
wide assortment of hits, including The Boys
From Syracuse and Pal Joey.
But by 1942 Hart’s alcoholic instability had
brought an end to their partnership and Rodgers
turned to Hammerstein.
In one of the miracle “second marriage”
stories of modern show-business, the two new
partners proved even more successful in this
later pairing than they had been before.
Oklahoma! set a new standard by which hit
shows would be measured and achieved a
complex integration of music, dance and drama
that would form a template for most serious
musicals of the future.
Although not as great a commercial success,
their 1945 show, Carousel,was an even more
profound achievement. Next up was Allegro
(1947), an experimental parable on the dangers
of success that didn’t really work on any level.
Consequently, when they set out to create the
show that would become South Pacific,Rodgers
and Hammerstein felt increased pressure to
come up with a smash hit.
That feeling was intensified by the
competition around them. Irving Berlin’s Annie
Get your Gun, Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate and
Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon had proven that
Rodgers and Hammerstein weren’t the only
figures in the landscape.
Director Joshua Logan was the one who first
read James Michener’s Tales From The South
Pacific and decided it would make a fine
musical. Rodgers and Hammerstein agreed and
signed him on as director.
Hammerstein, however, lacked any military
experience, and found writing the book
problematic. He brought in Logan, a veteran, as
his collaborator and the billing and royalty
negotiations among the trio that followed were
to prove highly unpleasant.
During rehearsals, numerous changes were
made to the score.
Two ballads (Loneliness of Evening and
My Girl Back Home) were cut from the show,
but appear here as bonus tracks from a 1951
recording that the original Nellie Forbush, Mary
Martin, made with Percy Faith. (Martin sings the
latter as “His Girl Back Home”.)
Both songs were to reappear in the 1958
film version: “My Girl Back Home”as a solo for
John Kerr and the lyrics to “Loneliness Of
Evening”were incorporated as a poem in a love
scene between Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor.
Other changes included a solo for Ezio Pinza
called “Now Is The Time”being dropped in favor
of the haunting This Nearly Was Mine.
But the most troubled song slot proved to
be the one that finally yielded Younger Than
Springtime. Logan kept rejecting everything
Rodgers and Hammerstein came up with
including a now-lost number called “My Friend”
and another selection,“Suddenly Happy”, whose
music resurfaced as “Getting To Know You”in
The King And I.
But when the show finally opened in New
York, it was greeted by a unanimous chorus of
critical acclaim, including “a show of rare
enchantment”, “an utterly captivating work of
theatrical art” and “an occasion worth
It went on to run 1925 performances and to
win a then-record 10 Tony Awards as well as the
Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Part of the show’s success can be heard in
the way that a wide assortment of musical styles
blend together to form a greater whole. Martin’s
style is pure musical theatre and Pinza possesses
a voice of operatic richness, while William
Tabbert’s soaring tones combine the two. And
then, there’s the ethnic appeal of Juanita Hall’s
unique sound to add the exotic element.
Besides the two bonus Mary Martin
selections, this recording also features Pinza’s
recording of Bali Ha’i,which he recorded as a
single six months after the show opened.
There are also four tracks from a 1949 RCA
Victor recording which featured Al Goodman
and his Orchestra,The Guild Choristers and –
most interestingly – the Broadway show’s two
Dickinson Eastham stood by for Pinza and
Sondra Deel did the same for Martin. On this
recording, they get a chance to have their place
in the sun.
Last, but certainly not least, there’s a medley
of songs from the score recorded on the Decca
label on 14 July 1949 by the twin piano duo of
Eadie Griffith and H. Rack Godwin, popularly
known as “Eadie and Rack”.
These are just a few of the numerous “spinoffs”
that a hit show like South Pacific could
generate in its heyday. And they all stand as
tribute to a score of melodic richness and lyrical
depth that continues to resonate today.
On its own, South Pacific still provides an
enchanted evening. Taken with a healthy dose
of historical hindsight, it can dazzle us even
– Richard Ouzounian
Though it was one of the best-selling Original
Cast albums of all time, responsible more than
any other single album for converting record
buyers to the new ‘LP’ format in 1949, South
Pacific has had a checkered sonic history.
Originally recorded on 16-inch lacquer discs, as
was the custom through the 1940s, the cast
recordings were also captured on the newly
developed magnetic tape. Various issues over
the years have been taken from both sources,
often with attempts to ‘modernize’ the sound by
adding reverb or fake stereo. Early LP pressings
suffer from distortion and diminished high
frequencies, later ones have extra reverb and
poor balance, and CD issues have suffered from
faulty edits or defective tape sources and
varying speeds. Two generations of record
collectors have never heard the original sound
recorded in 1949. However, the 78 masters
were derived directly from the lacquers, and in
1950, the cast album appeared briefly on 45s,
which also appear to be from the original
lacquers and not an intermediate tape master.
A clean 45 RPM set was used for this Naxos
transfer. The Al Goodman recordings were
issued on RCA’s budget ‘Bluebird Series’, but
oddly enough were pressed on vinyl. Vinyl
sources were also used for the extra selections
by Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, the latter a
7-inch 33RPM single disc. Worth noting are the
variations in some of these recordings: an entire
extra set of lines in Dickinson Eastham’s
performance of This Nearly Was Mine (which
Pinza also sang, but on a broadcast, not on his
Columbia recording) and different lyrics in the
Guild Choristers’ version of There Is Nothing
Like a Dame.
-- David Lennick
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