by Michael Meigs
The Georgetown Palace Theatre has done it again. The production of South Pacific playing weekends through March, 2013, is energetic, polished and entertaining, a celebration of the classic 1949 musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It’s a reminder that at mid-century American musical theatre pioneered new directions in entertainment for a public newly aware of the world beyond Main Street, USA.
With their first collaboration Oklahoma in 1943 Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II drew a symbolic picture of the home that Americans were then fighting a war for, including the banding together that excluded misfits such as poor Judd Fry. The post-World-War-II South Pacific, in contrast, is situated retrospectively at a low point in that conflict, showing sailors and Navy nurses sidelined in paradise, amusing themselves with shenanigans and camp entertainment while waiting to engage a distant and faceless enemy.
|(photo: Andy Sharp)|
It touches, although every so lightly, upon heartland Americans’ instinctive distrust of foreigners. The work conveys a message about bigotry and prejudice: “You've got to be taught/ Before it's too late/ Before you are six or seven or eight/ To hate all the people/your relatives hate;/ You've got to be carefully taught.” That thought is even more relevant seventy-plus years after it was first staged.
The musical numbers are stirring and delightful by turns. Many of them are still instantly recognizable from the opening chords of the live orchestra on an elevated platform hidden behind the backdrops: Some Enchanted Evening; I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair; Bali Hai; A Cockeyed Optimist; This Nearly Was Mine; and Younger than Springtime. The comic ensemble numbers are the carefree There Is Nothing Like A Dame and Honey Bun. Taken as a whole, the music of South Pacific constitutes in itself an extended chapter in the American songbook of popular music.
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