RODGERS: South Pacific (Original Broadway Cast) (1949) (Naxos: 8.120785)
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Music by Richard Rodgers Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Original Broadway Cast and Bonus Recordings, 1949-1951
It's all about historical perspective.
Nowadays,when we think of South Pacific,we tend to view it simply as one more hitmusical from the golden team of Rodgers &Hammerstein: a heartwarming show full ofglorious songs.
But to the opening night audience, it wasmuch,much more than that.
When the curtain rose on 7 April 1949, noteven four full years had passed since the end ofthe Second World War. A musical drama set inthe Pacific theatre, filled with soldiers loving,fighting and dying,was bound to have anemotional resonance that we can only guess attoday.
By contrast, fourteen years passed from theend of the Vietnam War in 1975 to its depictionin Miss Saigon (1989). And if any musicals havebeen written about Operation Desert Storm orthe recent conflict in Iraq,we've yet to see them.
Consequently, when you listen to thisoriginal cast recording, the experience will beintensified by heeding what's between the linesand behind the songs.
Nellie's cheerful A Cockeyed Optimist, forexample, with its answer to the nay-sayers whoinsist \that we're done and we might as well bedead" takes on new resonance when youposition it in a world where the first nuclearbombs are about to be detonated.
Some Enchanted Evening isn't just apassionate love song. It's about two peoplesurrounded by death who are hoping a personalrelationship could make sense of the insanityaround them.
And a ballad with the heart-rendingsimplicity of Younger Than Springtimeacquires added pathos when you realize that thesolider who sweetly sings it is soon to die incombat.
The magic of the original South Pacific isthat it didn't have to overplay the war card,because everyone in the audience rememberedwhat had happened all too well.
But for us to appreciate the depth of itsachievement now, it helps to put ourselves backin that 1949 mindset as much as possible.
It also makes sense for us to realize justwhere South Pacific sat in the timeline of theconsiderable careers of Rodgers andHammerstein.
Each of them had already enjoyed successwith other partners before they came togetherto write Oklahoma! in 1943.
Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) was theelder of the two. As the grandson of famedproducer and theatre owner OscarHammerstein, he came naturally to the businessand had written his first Broadway musical,Always You, before his 25th birthday.
Through the years,Hammerstein wrote withan assortment of collaborators, most notablySigmund Romberg, Rudolph Friml and JeromeKern. Although his prolific output included thebook and lyrics for hits like Rose Marie andShow Boat, he also had more than his share offlops. In fact, when Rodgers approached himabout a partnership, he hadn't had a trulysuccessful show in over a decade.
Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) had his firstBroadway credit for Poor Little Ritz Girl in 1920,shortly after his 18th birthday. His lyricist on theproject was Lorenz Hart, with whom he wouldwrite two dozen other shows over the next 22years. During that time, they created an enviablecatalogue of popular songs ("Where Or When","My Funny Valentine","Johnny One Note") and awide assortment of hits, including The BoysFrom Syracuse and Pal Joey.
But by 1942 Hart's alcoholic instability hadbrought an end to their partnership and Rodgersturned to Hammerstein.
In one of the miracle "second marriage"stories of modern show-business, the two newpartners proved even more successful in thislater pairing than they had been before.
Oklahoma! set a new standard by which hitshows would be measured and achieved acomplex integration of music, dance and dramathat would form a template for most seriousmusicals of the future.
Although not as great a commercial success,their 1945 show, Carousel,was an even moreprofound achievement. Next up was Allegro(1947), an experimental parable on the dangersof success that didn't really work on any level.
Consequently, when they set out to create theshow that would become South Pacific,Rodgersand Hammerstein felt increased pressure tocome up with a smash hit.
That feeling was intensified by thecompetition around them. Irving Berlin's AnnieGet your Gun, Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate andLerner and Loewe's Brigadoon had proven thatRodgers and Hammerstein weren't the onlyfigures in the landscape.
Director Joshua Logan was the one who firstread James Michener's Tales From The SouthPacific and decided it would make a finemusical. Rodgers and Hammerstein agreed andsigned him on as director.
Hammerstein, however, lacked any militaryexperience, and found writing the bookproblematic. He brought in Logan, a veteran, ashis collaborator and the billing and royaltynegotiations among the trio that followed wereto prove highly unpleasant.
During rehearsals, numerous changes weremade to the score.
Two ballads (Loneliness of Evening andMy Girl Back Home) were cut from the show,but appear here as bonus tracks from a 1951recording that the original Nellie Forbush, MaryMartin, made with Percy Faith. (Martin sings thelatter as "His Girl Back Home".)Both songs were to reappear in the 1958film version: "My Girl Back Home"as a solo forJohn Kerr and the lyrics to "Loneliness OfEvening"were incorporated as a poem in a lovescene between Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor.
Other changes included a solo for Ezio Pinzacalled "Now Is The Time"being dropped in favorof the haunting This Nearly Was Mine.
But the most troubled song slot proved tobe the one that finally yielded Younger ThanSpringtime. Logan kept rejecting everythingRodgers and Hammerstein came up withincluding a now-lost number called "My Friend"and another selection,"Suddenly Happy", whosemusic resurfaced as "Getting To Know You"inThe King And I.
But when the show finally opened in NewYork, it was greeted by a unanimous chorus ofcritical acclaim, including "a show of rareenchantment", "an utterly captivating work oftheatrical art" and "an occasion worthcelebrating".
It went on to run 1925 performances and towin a then-record 10 Tony Awards as well as thePulitzer Prize for Drama.
Part of the show's success can be heard inthe way that a wide assortment of musical stylesblend together to form a greater whole. Martin'sstyle is pure musical theatre and Pinza possessesa voice of operatic richness, while WilliamTabbert's soaring tones combine the two. Andthen, there's the ethnic appeal of Juanita Hall'sunique sound to add the exotic element.
Besides the two bonus Mary Martinselections, this recording also features Pinza'srecording of Bali Ha'i,which he recorded as asingle six months after the show opened.
There are also four tracks from a 1949 RCAVictor recording which featured Al Goodmanand his Orchestra,The Guild Choristers and -most interestingly - the Broadway show's twounderstudies.
Dickinson Eastham stood by for Pinza andSondra Deel did the same for Martin. On thisrecording, they get a chance to have their placein the sun.
Last, but certainly not least, there's a medleyof songs from the score recorded on the Deccalabel on 14 July 1949 by the twin piano duo ofEadie Griffith and H. Rack Godwin, popularlyknown as "Eadie and Rack".
These are just a few of the numerous "spinoffs"that a hit show like South Pacific couldgenerate in its heyday. And they all stand astribute to a score of melodic richness and lyricaldepth that continues to resonate today.
On its own, South Pacific still provides anenchanted evening. Taken with a healthy doseof historical hindsight,