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Theatre / South Pacific

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Some enchanted evening, when you find your true love
When you feel her call you across a crowded room,
Then fly to her side, and make her your own
Or all through your life you may dream all alone!
— "Some Enchanted Evening"

South Pacific is a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, originally produced in 1949. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards, and won all of them, including the second-ever Tony for Best Musical. South Pacific is also the only musical to win Best Production, Best Direction, and all four acting awards at one time.

Nellie Forbush is a Navy nurse from Arkansas serving in the South Pacific during World War II. She has met a local French plantation owner named Emile de Becque. Lieutenant Joe Cable arrives on the island to take part in a spy mission.

Cable tries to get Emile to agree to be his guide for the mission, but Emile will have none of it. Bloody Mary introduces Cable to a beautiful Tonkinese girl named Liat. Cable is enamored, but is shocked to discover that she is Bloody Mary's daughter. Nellie also makes a discovery about Emile that forces her to face her deep-seated racial prejudices.

Adapted from several stories in James Michener's 1947 book Tales of the South Pacific, the show has several well-known numbers, including "Some Enchanted Evening," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair," "Younger Than Springtime," "Nothing Like a Dame," "Honey Bun," and "Wonderful Guy."

The musical received a film adaptation in 1958, starring Mitzi Gaynor as Nellie and Rossano Brazzi as Emile. It made more money than any other movie of the year. A remake was done in 2001, starring Glenn Close, Harry Connick Jr. and Rade Šerbedžija.

Not to be confused with the 2009 Nature Documentary series.

This musical provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Amalgamation: The musical ties together elements of five stories from Tales of the South Pacific: "Fo' Dolla'" (Cable and Liat), "Our Heroine" (Nellie and Emile), "The Cave" (the mission to spy on Japanese troop movements), "The Milk Run" (a massive rescue mission to rescue a single downed serviceman), and "A Boar's Tooth" (Luther and the native ceremony). The stories originally had no direct connections or shared characters (apart from the unnamed narrator, and he doesn't have a corresponding character in the musical).
  • Adaptation Distillation: In Tales of the South Pacific, Emile has eight children, of multiple ethnicities, from four earlier relationships. Some of them play significant roles in other stories, but for the story of Emile and Nellie, the ones that matter are the Polynesian ex and the two half-Polynesian children that trigger Nellie's anti-black prejudices, so the musical dispenses with all the rest.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Emile is older than Nellie, old enough for him to feel a little awkward courting her.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Weaves together two separate stories from James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific, and incorporates characters and events from several others.
  • An Aesop: Racism is bad, and not a natural state of humanity, as summed up by the song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Emile, when Nellie is leaving him.
  • Beta Couple: Cable and Liat is a rare tragic example.
  • Bittersweet Ending: So, Nellie puts aside her racial prejudices because she loves Emile and his children, but Cable is killed and leaves Liat and Bloody Mary in limbo, since Liat refuses to marry anyone else...
  • Bookends: "Dites-Moi" starts and ends the show.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Multiple; whatever they may say or fantasize among themselves, the sailors are completely respectful to the nurses. Luther is the most fleshed-out example: he's very interested in "the women who dance with just skirts on!", yet he stops Emile from talking to Nellie because he thinks Emile hurt her, when Nellie tells him how wonderful he is for giving her flowers he admits they aren't from him, and when she emotionally opens the note from Emile he says he'll be around if she needs him.
  • Composite Character:
    • Luther Billis is a composite of the book's Luther Billis, a similar character called Atropine Benny, who was the one who facilitated Cable's courtship of Liat, and Bus Adams, who was the focus of the rescue mission in "The Milk Run".
    • The spying mission was originally a separate story with unrelated characters; in the musical, Joe and Emile take the place of the original protagonists.
    • Captain George Brackett stands in for the various commanding officers in the original short stories.
  • Crowd Song: "Bloody Mary" and "Nothing Like a Dame" are sung by Luther and a crowd of sailors; "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" is sung by Nellie and a chorus of nurses.
  • Dark Reprise: Both romantic songs, "Some Enchanted Evening" and "Younger Than Springtime," get sad reprises, the first after Nellie leaves Emile in a tearful fit, the second after Joe Cable and Liat are separated.
  • Demoted to Extra: In Tales of the South Pacific, William Harbison was a significant recurring character, a superficially fine officer who proved to have feet of clay. He was originally intended to be a significant character in the musical as well, but as the plot firmed up he was reduced to a minor character with few distinguishing features and little in common with the book's Harbison beyond his name.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the book, Joe Cable is killed in action during a big battle (the one that everyone embarks for at the end of the musical); it's a different character, named Anderson, who goes on the spying mission and is killed there. Joe's death in the musical (killed by a Japanese air attack) is also different from Anderson's in the book (captured and beheaded by Japanese ground troops).
  • Everyone Looks Sexier if French / Everything Sounds Sexier in French: Emile, depending on the actor in question.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Nellie and Emile, who have only known each other for a "few short weeks" but are then engaged. Even when they reunite and reconcile at the end of the story, they've still only known each other a few months at most.
  • Gung Holier Than Thou: Joe has traces of this.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Joe sings to Liat that he's "gayer than laughter" when he's with her.
  • Holding Hands: The Broadway version and movie end with Nellie and Emile grabbing each other's hands underneath the table while the children have lunch.
  • Horny Sailors: The chorus of sailors all agree—in song, no less!—that "There's Nothing Like A Dame", but whatever they may say or fantasize among themselves, the sailors are completely respectful to the nurses.
  • I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me: Emile and Nellie in "Twin Soliloquies". Nellie worries that a "cultured Frenchman" can't really be interested in her, a "little hick", while Emile worries that, surrounded by "younger men than I, officers and doctors," she won't choose to be with him.
  • Love at First Sight: Nellie and Emile (see "Some Enchanted Evening").
  • Love Redeems: Nellie eventually allows her love for Emile to overpower any negative feelings she had regarding his bi-racial previous marriage.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Nellie (who is from Little Rock, Arkansas) is dismayed to learn that her love interest Emile has fathered a number of children due to his relationships with local Polynesian women, though she does eventually overcome it, accepting both him and them.
  • Mood Whiplash: At the beginning of Act II, Bloody Mary and Liat entertain Joe Cable with "Happy Talk" in attempt to get him to fall for Liat. However, he turns down the opportunity to marry her afterward, causing Bloody Mary to aggressively end their romance.
  • My Girl Back Home: Trope Namer and subversion. In this case he sings this song before cheating on his "girl back home."
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Happy Talk:"
    Happy talk, keep talkin' happy talk,
    Talk about things you'd like to do.
    You got to have a dream,
    If you don't have a dream
    How you gonna have a dream come true?
  • Prejudice Aesop: The moral of the story is largely about Nellie learning to overcome her suspicion of the non-white members of Emile's family and realize they are the same as anyone else. The show is nowhere more explicit about how unnatural and strange racial hatred is than in the song "You've Got to be Carefully Taught". It explicitly says that hate doesn't come naturally, it gets drummed into people in their youth. When some Southerners asked to cut that song, Rodgers and Hammerstein said "If you cut that song, you might as well cut the whole musical."
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: It's not all that discreet, considering that they're both half undressed, but the stage still fades to black as Joe and Liat embrace and fall to the floor.
  • Sympathetic Murder Backstory: De Becque had to flee his homeland because he killed a man in a Bar Brawl. The guy was trying to kill him at the time, and the actual death was an accident (so this would be self-defense at most, but he might have a hard time proving it).
  • Taught to Hate: "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" is the Trope Namer. Lieutenant Cable, a white American man in an interracial relationship with Tonkinese Liat, becomes angry at his own internalized racial hangups about the romance and breaks out into a song to the effect that bigotry isn't something humans are born with, it's something they learn and, by implication, they should damn well un-learn it. The playwrights were requested to cut the song for being too Anvilicious,invoked and retorted that its Prejudice Aesop was the point of the whole musical.

The film adaptation provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The Collector's Edition DVD boasts that it might be Rodgers and Hammerstein's only movie to run longer than the play that inspired it.
  • Bowdlerise: In the play, Bloody Mary calls men "stingy bastards" after they turn down her offers. The movie changes this phrase to "stingy stinker."
  • Epic Movie: Filmed on location in Hawaii, the movie beat Vertigo and Gigi to become the #1 film of 1958. However, several Rodgers and Hammerstein fans regard it as the weakest film adaptation due to garish Mood Lighting (achieved through color filters) and poor pacing.
  • Feet-First Introduction: Liat has one in the General Release / Home Video version.
  • Movie Bonus Song: "My Girl Back Home." The movie also incorporates the Cut Song "Loneliness of Evening," as a spoken poem Emile writes to Nellie.
  • Re-Cut: Two versions are known to exist: A roadshow version that runs 172 minutes and a 157-minute general release version. The roadshow version was considered lost until 2005; the 2006 DVD and 2009 Blu-Ray include both the general release and roadshow versions. The version that played in Europe more closely follows the play by showing Nellie's and Emile's first scene together before the song "Bloody Mary."


Video Example(s):


You've Got to Be Taught

From the 1958 film adaptation. Lieutenant Cable, a white American in love with a Tonkinese woman, declares in song that people aren't born bigoted, they're taught to be.

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Example of:

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