South Pacific

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific opened in 1949 and ran for 1,945 performances, nabbing 10 Tony awards (including all four for acting) and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950.

Here’s a 15-minute medley of many of the great songs from the movie, including “Some enchanted evening,” and “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” The latter song (starts at 10:45) has an interesting history, as recounted in Theatre Journal:

In the second act of South Pacific, Lieutenant Joe Cable sings “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” a song about racial prejudice. Rodgers and Hammerstein were counseled repeatedly in tryouts to remove the song, which was considered by many to be too controversial, too preachy, or simply inappropriate in a musical. They resisted the pressure, James Michener (author of the book on which the play was based) later recalled: “The authors replied stubbornly that this number represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in.” During a touring production of the show in Atlanta in 1953, the song again raised hackles, this time offending some Georgia legislators who introduced a bill to outlaw entertainment having, as they stated, “an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow.” State Representative David C. Jones claimed that a song justifying interracial marriage was implicitly a threat to the American way of life. Hammerstein replied that he was surprised by the idea that “anything kind and humane must necessarily originate in Moscow.”

Mitzi Gaynor in the movie, singing “Wonderful Guy.” It’s the only song I know that contains the word “bromidic”!

Oh, go ahead: sing along. You know you want to!

12 Comments

  1. Les
    Posted June 16, 2011 at 4:40 am | Permalink

    Luther is Ray Walston, best known as “My Favorite Martian”.

  2. JBlilie
    Posted June 16, 2011 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    Dr. C.: Do you get up reeeaaallly early, or do you have a bot put this up?

  3. Daniel
    Posted June 16, 2011 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    And “There is Nothing Like a Dame” is wonderfully homoerotic and suggestive. Some in Hollywood always found a way to subvert restrictions and send coded messages to those with an eye to find them.

    • Posted June 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      At least one of the Marines, “Ed Fury”, modelled for the Athletic Models Guild.

  4. Posted June 16, 2011 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    I saw South Pacific on stage some years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    One quibble about its subject matter:

    ‘In the second act of South Pacific, Lieutenant Joe Cable sings “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” a song about racial prejudice.’

    While I agree with the sentiment behind the song, unfortunately recent studies seem to confirm that children take to racial prejudice rather easily and naturally, and this implies that they need to be carefully “untaught” it lest they bring racism into their adult thinking.

    • Marella
      Posted June 16, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I think fear of different looking people is pretty well innate, and hatred follows fear like night follows day. The art of civilization is the art of living with huge numbers of people you don’t know and who are not exactly like you. A rather difficult art unfortunately.

  5. vel
    Posted June 16, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    South Pacific was the only musical I’ve ever been in. I still remember most of the words to “Bali Hai”. This was in a small very rural high school and the powers that be tried to expurgate the mild cursing in the songs. That last performance, the cast had a good time ignoring the censorship.

  6. Posted June 16, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    South Pacific is one of the shows I have been in. We built a human a pyramid during “Nothing Lie A Dame” and I was on top. :-)

  7. Posted June 16, 2011 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    About 5 years ago PBS had a live staged performance starring Brian Stokes Mitchell, Reba McEntire, and Alec Baldwin, among others, which I thoroughly enjoyed. See http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/episodes/south-pacific-in-concert-from-carnegie-hall/introduction/117/. A DVD is available.

    Regarding the theme of the song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught”, my own recollections from years ago support R&H’s take. When I first heard the song as a child, I knew it was about racial prejudice (which in America 40 or so years was most saliently prejudice against blacks), but later, when I first heard the song in the context of the play (in the movie version), I didn’t get it, because it had not occurred to me that there could be prejudice against Polynesians (which is what it appeared to me as a kid watching the movie; I know now that some of the characters were supposed to be Vietnamese).

    • Posted June 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      It also fits against homophobia – especially when sung (lipsynched?) by John Kerr (who’d previously played Tom in Tea and Sympathy, and wisely left movies early, going into law).

  8. Filippo
    Posted June 16, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    The modern pop music sensibility heaps scorn on the heart-on-the-sleeve sentiments expressed in a song like “Some Enchanted Evening.” (Might be a good test song for “Amuricun Idol.”) The sentiments are so emotionally strong that one would have to absolutely throw caution to the wind to dare to utter them to someone. One would actually have to mean what he said. (Or be drunk? Nowadays way too many people just say anything that comes to their minds. But perhaps it’s always been that way.)

    Giorgio Tozzi (Rossano Brazz’s singing voice) really opens up that bass-baritone resonance. The best R&H musical, in my subjective, imperfect opinion. The great thing about their work is that in almost all of their musicals there are at least two songs which stand on their own individual merits as concert songs.

    Ah, those noble Christian legislators of yesteryear in Georgia. Certainly a historical legacy of which Georgians can be most proud.

  9. Posted June 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    While SP has an admirable theme of inter-racial love overcoming prejudice (twice), the film rides roughshod over the realities of Pacific ethnicity, cheerfully mangling Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian cultures together in one mishmash. Cable falls in love with Liat, a “Tonkinese” (Vietnamese) whose mother was based on Samoan Aggie Grey and sung by African-American Juanita Hall. Emile has two “Polynesian” children (not sure where Polynesians are to be found in Vanuatu) one of whom was played by a Chinese. The Solomon Islanders in their brief scene (Cable’s death) are obviously white men in blackface.


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