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Broadway at Duke Preview: South Pacific Is Still Some Enchanted Evening

March 31, 2003 - Durham, NC:


The Troika Entertainment National Tour of South Pacific, which played Raleigh Memorial Auditorium last Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 for Broadway Series South, plays Duke University's Page Auditorium April 2 for Broadway at Duke. Duke's Peter Coyle said today that the Wednesday performance is virtually sold out.

This Pulitzer Prize winning 1949 message musical, with music by Richard Rodgers and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, II, takes its plot from several stories from Tales of the South Pacific, James Michener's Pulitzer Prize winning novel set in French Polynesia at the height of World War II. This powerful musical parable about the corrosive effects of racial prejudice was very daring for its day.

South Pacific chronicles the whirlwind May-December romance between self-described "cockeyed optimist" U.S. Navy nurse Ensign Nellie "Knucklehead Nellie" Forbush and handsome but mysterious expatriate French planter Emile de Becque. Everything is copacetic until Nellie meets de Becque's two half-Tonkinese children, and her residual racial prejudices surface.

A parallel romance pairing Marine Lt. Joe Cable with teenage Tonkinese beauty Liat also founders on the shoals of racial prejudice. The fallout from these two devastating breakups propels de Becque and Cable to undertake an incredibly dangerous coast-watch mission behind Japanese lines.

The original production of South Pacific, starring Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, opened on Broadway on April 7, 1949, and ran until 1954. Powered by such show-stopping songs as "Some Enchanted Evening," "Bali Ha'i," "A Wonderful Guy" and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair," South Pacific won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, plus nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score; the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical; a Grammy Award; and a Gold Record, among numerous other honors.

The 1958 film version of South Pacific, starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi (with his songs dubbed by Giorgio Tozzi), won a 1959 Academy Award for Best Sound. It was also nominated for Best Color Cinematography and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

"Magnificent," raved New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson in 1949. "South Pacific is as lively, warm, fresh and beautiful as we had all hoped it would be."

Also in 1949, the New York World Telegram called South Pacific: "The finest kind of balance between story and song, hilarity and heartbreak."

In 1994, the Los Angeles Times claimed: "Few Broadway musicals can match the songs of South Pacific for their beguiling tunes and meaningful lyrics. Whether addressing such varied subjects as love at first sight, race prejudice or lost possibilities, they speak a rare yet simple language."

And, in 2001, Entertainment Weekly declared: "It's hard to resist the WWII love story and the stirring Rodgers and Hammerstein score."

Broadway at Duke presents South Pacific Wednesday, April 2, at 8 p.m. in Page Auditorium on Duke University's West Campus in Durham, North Carolina. $32-$40. 919/684-4444. http://www.duke.edu/web/duu/broadway/broadwayevents.htm#spacific.