When PJ and I planned our trip to New York this year, there was one show I absolutely wanted to see: the revival of South Pacific. So, this was the only show for which we bought advance tickets. I’m glad we saw it — it’s a wonderful interpretation of the musical — but we clearly did not need advance tickets: we sat in the balcony with only about 20 other people. The theater was probably less than two-thirds full. I assume the production won’t be sticking around much longer (unless the weekends really bring in the crowds — we saw it on Wednesday night).

As I’m sure everyone knows, this 1949 musical is about the war in the South Pacific in the early 1940s. It tells the story of Ensign Nellie Forbush, a girl from Little Rock, who meets Emile de Becque while stationed on an island. The two instantly fall in love when they see each other across a crowded room; the play is about what happens when they begin to learn a little more about each other’s lives and beliefs. The secondary plot is about a hotshot lieutenant, Joe Cable, who sees an opportunity to turn the tide of the war. His plans are complicated by Nellie and Emile’s relationship and his own attraction for a native islander. Both couples have to confront the Americans’ racism to varying degrees of success. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950.

I’d never seen a live production of the play before. I had seen the 1958 film, which I have mixed feelings about. I like the songs and message, but the movie’s direction is too much for its own good. In particular, the film is famous for its mood coloring, which never appealed to me.

My parents raised my sister and me on old movies, and this one was probably one of the racier ones that we were allowed to watch. I was totally crushing on John Kerr, and I loved the song “Bali Hai” beyond all reason. I now think it resonated with my adolescent queer yearning for love and unconscious knowledge that it would have to be found elsewhere than in my parents’ community.

I found a clip if “Bali Hai” on YouTube. I think it illustrates all of these elements: John Kerr, the song, and the mood coloring — the movie really is pink, yellow, and blue  at times!

With just the movie and a little of the Glenn Close television movie in mind, I eagerly awaited seeing this production of South Pacific, which won two Tony Awards, one for Best Revival and one for Paulo Szot for lead actor. It is a great production.

Szot is great as Emile. He’s got sex appeal, a great voice, and movie star good looks. Kelli O’Hara originated the role of Nellie in this production, but she has left the show. We saw Laura Marie Duncan in the role. She was great too — her Nellie is naive but really likable, which is important, since she’s supposed to be innocently racist in the play rather than maliciously so. I found this clip of Szot and O’Hara singing “Some Enchanted Evening” on the view:

This clip gives a good taste of Szot’s performance. I especially like Szot because he’s out as a gay man. He’s also an opera singer.

The entire production is extremely well done. The production numbers are excellent. The sets are great. And the music is as singable as ever. I like its general realism (for a musical). The sailors are manly men rather than chorus boys. The sets look like they could be on an island in the 1940s. And the commander’s office is especially well realized. There’s also a little male nudity!

The show originally included Matthew Morrison as Lt. Cable. He’s gone on to other things (Glee) and has been replaced by Andrew Samonsky, who’s pretty dreamy too. He’s no John Kerr, but he’s hot nevertheless, which is just what a hotshot lieutenant should be. Here’s a clip of him singing “Younger than Springtime” at a concert in Bryant Park earlier this year:

Here’s a final taste from the medley performed on the Tony Awards show:

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