Artscape and Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra brought to the local audience a classic, 3-hour long, captivating musical South Pacific, to celebrate the 70th anniversary since its original premiere on Broadway.
Artscape offered a summary of the piece: “This epic musical romance is set on a South Pacific island during WWII, where American sailors and nurses are stationed. Nellie, a spunky nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, falls in love with Emile de Becque, a French expatriate and plantation owner, and Lt. Joseph Cable finds himself in a passionate affair with Liat, the young daughter of Bloody Mary, the local grass-skirt peddler. As the war against Japan escalates, reality sets in for both Nellie and Joseph, who struggle to reconcile their unconventional love affairs with their long-held prejudices and insecurities. “
The music was composed by Richard Rodgers, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan. One would think the music and lyrics would be long retired by now, but the piece still runs and feels contemporary enough.
The story is at first glance simple: feelings of love are challenged by the feelings of hate. The South Pacific brings up topics relevant to the modern-day societies and builds on the issues of racism, gender roles, and (in the modern read) cultural exchange, the influence of media, and education.
The central message of the musical is condensed in a song You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught, which suggests that hatred and racism are not inborn to humans but persist when “carefully thought” to the young people.
South Pacific is an old musical and a place far away for many. Nonetheless, just a glance at the daily news may be sufficient to make its notes resonate with relevance and urgency today, as they did back in 1949 when they were first played.