Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
adapted from Tales of the South Pacific, a novel by James Michener


Opened at the Belasco Theater   Feb. 2, 1949   1,929 performances (many revivals)
Original Director: Joshua Logan
Original Choreographer: Logan
Original Producer: Rodgers & Hammerstein
Original Leads: Nellie: Mary Martin   Emile: Enzio Pinza    Mary: Juanita Hall    Billis: Myron McCormack
Cast Size: Male: 7    Female: 3    Ensemble: As many as possible    Total Cast Size: 10 + ensemble, at least 16 more, plus two children.
Orchestra: 22, there are other arrangements including a two piano arrangement.
Published Script: Modern Library, 6 Plays by Rodgers & Hammerstein
Production Rights: Rodgers & Hammerstein Library
Recordings: Many. The original is very good, the film is well-recorded, there is a terrific studio recording with Jose Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa, opera stars.
Film: A decent version, but the color coordination in the shoot came out poorly and hurts the film. Fairly true to the piece. A 2001 version for TV starred Glenn Close.
Other shows by the authors: Oklahoma, Carousel, Allegro, The King and I, Flower Drum Song, The Sound of Music   Hammerstein: Show Boat   Rodgers: Babes In Arms, Pal Joey, No Strings
Awards: The Pulitzer Prize, 10 Tonys, including Best Musical, Best Male Performer (Pinza), Best Female Performer (Martin), Best Supporting Male Performer (McCormick), Best Supporting Female Performer (Hall), Best Director (Logan), Best Book and Best Score.


One of the real, genuine classics in the Musical Theater repertoire, with two fantastic starring roles, and interesting supporting roles, a gorgeous score that in some ways borders on opera and in other ways is pure musical comedy, but all in the service what must be considered a musical play. The script by both Hammerstein and Logan is professional and almost always effective. And it deals with serious issues in a way musicals tended to avoid earlier than this show.

It’s a very large show, however, and its demands are significant. A good show for Universities and Colleges with large departments and orchestras. Dinner Theaters looking for a large cast show could try it out, but they must shrink the technical demands. Stock, semi-pro, regional and pro theaters with the budget and the will could do it.

Be Warned:

It’s big. A very big and rather expensive show. You’ll need an older man to play Emile and mature woman for Nellie, so this is no show for a High School. Besides, the vocal parts call for mature voices.

Dealing with sexual subject matter rather frankly for a musical also moves this show away from performance by younger casts. Nurses need to look good, Nellie must be attractive and accessible enough to explain why men fall for her, and people have affairs in this show.


ACT ONE: An island in the South Pacific during WWII. Another volcanic island is visible across a small stretch of ocean, in the distance. Two Eurasian children, girl age 11, bot age 8, perform a little dance, in French and partly on a table top. (“Dites Moi”) A servant leads them away just as Emile De Becque and Nellie Forbush enter. He is a French planter, she is a nurse with the American Navy, as she says, “a hick from the sticks” who is stationed on this island. He has shown her around his lovely plantation, and they sit for coffee. She goes on about how beautiful here, and that means the world can’t be ending as so many people seem to believe. She declares herself “A Cockeyed Optimist”. They sit and drink, clearly interested in each other, and we hear their private thoughts in “Twin Soliloquys”, and he finally admits to her that “Some Enchanted Evening,” he fell in love with her, though he is older than her. But her jeep arrives. He hurries to answer a question he asked – he left France because he murdered a man, a bully people were happy to be rid of. She hardly knows him, but she still trusts him. And she’ll consider his proposal as she departs. Emile’s children come out of hiding. They’ve been watching, apparently,. And play a game with him. They love each other.

A group of sailors and Marines (seebees) sing about how “Bloody Mary Is The Girl I Love”. Mary is (per Hammerstein) a small, yellow woman with Oriental eyes. (She’ll also need a big voice.) She is a bit of a con, selling cheap handmade goods and shrunken heads from her volcanic island to sailors. She is entertaining and popular with the sailors, though they do not trust her. A real operator, a seabee named Luther Billis, shows her handmade skirts that he and a few seebees made, superior to hers. They are competitors. He also runs an inefficient laundry. Then he sees a boar’s tooth bracelet on Mary’s arm, from the volcanic island, Bali Ha’i. He offers to buy it, and she asks a high price, but he can’t help himself. Billis dreams of going to Bali Ha’i, where they have all sorts of native oddities. And as one sailor points out, on Bali ha’i there are also young French women, where French planters hide their women from the seebees. But only officers can sign out a boat. The men are desperate for women, because, well, “There Is Nothing Like A Dame”.

The nurses run by in a group, exercising. Nellie asks Billis if he’s done as she asked, and he hands her a package. It’s something with pleats. He won’t take money from her, however. Seems everyone loves Nellie. Mary rearranges the skirts she’s gotten off Billis, as a young Lieutenant, Joe Cable, watches her. He’s just been posted at the island, and has seen combat. She knows everyone, so Cable asks Mary if she knows Emile, and Billis chimes in that he thinks he’s the French planter that lives at the top of the hill. Mary gives the handsome Lt. A free shrunken head, but he turns her down, though she is clearly taken with him. Billis realizes that Cable, an officer, might be his ticket to a boat, even as Mary sells the young man on “Bali Ha’i” and its beauty. Billis repeats the song badly in an attempt to persuade the man. The men suddenly assume nonchalant poses, as Captain Brackett and Commander Harbison enter, looking for Mary. He’s angry because Mary is destroying the island’s economy – planters can’t get workers, they are all employed by Mary. Billis offers to make the trinkets Mary currently makes, which would free up labor and eliminate his competition. The Captain has Mary thrown off base. Cable speaks to the two officers, explaining that he’s a Marine sent here because it’s felt these islands are in danger, lacking first-hand intel. He suggests that one man with a radio hiding on one of the nearby Japanese islands could watch for Japanese ships headed their way, but that such a man would need to be snuck onto an island at night, and he, Cable has that assignment. He would like to go there with a man who knows the area, and he’d like Emile. And we find that Cable has started to be interested in Bali Ha’i. Billis signs out a boat in Cable’s name, without asking the man. Cable then meets with Brackett, who has info on Emile DeBecque. He lived with a Polynesian woman for five years, had two children, she died, and he’d left France earlier because he killed a man. Cable thinks he might be handy. And so Brackett brings in Nellie, and they pump her for info on DeBegue. They ask her to spy on him, get to know him. She agrees to do it, and realizes that she doesn’t know Emile very well. Harbison and Brackett discuss the mission, and they believe two men on the selected island would last about a week. They feel its worth the risk for the intel.

Cable speaks to Nellie, as she reads a letter from her mother. Her mom apparently disapproves of Nellie, and of Frenchmen. She throws the letter away, though Cable warns her she does not know much about De Becque. She’s troubled.

On the beach, women are bathing at Billis Bath Club, in a tin tub shower. Billis personally gets Nellie’s hot water, and she decides she’s better off with sand and dirt in her hair. In fact, she’s better off alone, as she declares “I’m Gonna’ Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair”. Only as she dries her hair, Emile enters, wondering if the song she was singing is some American ditty. He wonders why she’s not responded to an invitation for dinner, to meet his friends, a party for her. She doesn’t want to go, but he points out that she really doesn’t know him well. She starts to interrogate him. He explains how he killed the man, and then asks her to marry him. They again sing “Some Enchanted Evening”, she’s in love, agrees to attend the party, and he departs. Her friends scoff – she sure washed him out of her hair! But she doesn’t care, and declares “I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy”.

Emile meets with Brackett, Harbison and Cable, and says he can’t go with Cable. He’s in love, but he will also only fight for people who believe in freedom, and he’s not convinced. Cable is given a few days off, and immediately thinks of Bloody Mary and Bali Ha’i. Next we see Billis and Cable on that island. Billis collects valuable trinkets, Cable looks over the women until Mary leads him to meet a beautiful, native 17 year-old girl, Liat. He is instantly in love. Mary leaves them alone, and to him, Liat is “Younger Than Springtime”. Billis waits at the boat for Cable, and the man finally shows up, lost in a dream. Mary says he will be her son-in-law, as Liat is her daughter.

Emile’s plantation house, as people depart the party. The lovers find themselves alone, she says she has to get back to base. But she stays., They reprise “Twin Soliloquys” and “Cockeyed Optimist”. Then, two children sing “Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair” to her…and are finally introduced as Emile’s. He explains that their mother passed away. And yes, their mother was Polynesian. Flustered, she decides to return to the base. She runs away.

ACT TWO: A week has passed.

On the base, a performance of “The Thanksgiving Follies,” which Nellie has “directed.” Various seebeas and nurses perform based on their unique abilities. The lights fail in mid-show, Billis’ department. Emile shows up backstage and asks Billis where Nellie might be. She’s on stage. Billis asks Emile to leave her alone, she’s finally happy again, after asking for a transfer and being denied. Emile is determined to see her tonight, and waits. Cable approaches Billis and asks him to get a boat. He’s feverish, ill. The Liat shows up backstage. (It’s a bit much, yes…) Marty has brought her because a wealthy French planter wants to marry Liat, and Mary wants Cable to have her. Emile steps angrily in, pointing out that Cable is clearly ill. Cable finds it grimly amusing that Emile is worried about anyone but himself. Mary talks “Happy Talk”, but Cable is troubled and gives Liat his watch to hold for him to remember him. Mary, furious, says Liat will marry the planter, now. He tells Mary he can’t marry Liat.

On stage, Brackett introduces Nellie, who performs “Honey Bun”. Behind stage, Nellie thanks Billis for flowers and he admits they’re from Emile. Cable watches as Emile approaches Nellie, begging to talk. She tells him that she can’t be with him, because of his affair with a Polynesian woman, her middle-class upbringing can’t be worked around. She asks Cable, who is filled with self-loathing because of his own rejection of such a relationship, sing “You’ve Got To Be Taught” bigotry and hate from a young age. He asks De Beque to reconsider the assignment, and as both men have little to live for, they agree to go together to the Japanese island, to spy. Billis overhears them.

Brackett sits in his communication room and anxiously waits to hear from the two men, now planted on the island. He’s interrupted buy the need to discipline Billis, who has cost the armed forces a small fortune by having a plane shot down. He hid in the plane that delivered the two men to the Japanese island, and was shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft, and had to be rescued. When Billis finds out that his rescue cost the Navy $600,000, even he is impressed. He’s in serious trouble until it’s pointed out that he acted as a distraction that allowed Cable and Emile to arrive safely on the island. Then the radio suddenly goes live with Emile and Cable’s voices, with a full intel report.

Nellie meets with Brackett, and wants to know where Emile is. She’s been to his plantation, and is worried about his children. And she keeps hearing reports about “The Frenchman” and his intel reports. Brackett lets her know the truth, even as Emile radios in to announce that Cable has died, and that he feels Japanese planes are now hunting him. He will need to go silent for a few days. On the beach, alone, Nellie sings “Some Enchanted Evening” and feels like a fool for letting her small town mortality intrude in her happiness. Mary interrupts her and asks where Cable is, telling her that her daughter Liat will not marry anyone but Cable. Nellie must give her the bad news.

A massive offensive is about to embark. Billis asks Brackett what’s being done for Nellie’s Emile, and offers to lead a rescue mission. They’ve already sent a mission in to extract him, but do not yet know if he made it out alive.

Nellie sits with Emile’s children,. On the hill looking down at the beach, and describing the various ships there. They sing to her as they did to their father…when he shows up to sing with them. Happy ending.


“Dites Moi”, “A Cockeyed Optimist”, “Twin Soliloquys”, “Some Enchanted Evening”, “Bloody Mary Is The Girl I Love”, “There Is Nothing Like A Dame”, “Bali Ha’i”, “I’m Gonna’ Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair”, “I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy”, “Younger Than Springtime”, “Happy Talk”, “Honey Bun”, “You’ve Got To Be Taught”, “This Nearly Was Mine”

Hits include everything in the score pretty much, but especially “Some Enchanted Evening”, “There Is Nothing Like A Dame”, “Bali Ha’i”, “I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy”


As always, feel free to ignore or skip my opinions and rating.  But if you do, and then you go down in the South Pacific, well, don’t call to me for a life raft.

The closest thing to a three-star show that isn’t three stars. The story has real dramatic power, Billis is a fine comic creation, there is some very entertaining material for those who do not want to think much. And for those who do want to think, South Pacific is a far better show than most musicals.

I believe that South Pacific is R & H’s best show (along with The King and I), and that means it’s one of the greatest shows ever written. If I had to pick one R & H to represent them, it would be this show.

Hammerstein is overall at his best here, with fewer mentions than usual in his lyrics to nature, though we still have those famed references to corn, in this case, “corny as Kansas in August.” And by the way, what reason would a sky have for being a “bright canary yellow?” I’d be worried. But he does offer us fewer lyrics here about (literally) birds and bees than he will in any of his other major shows, for which I, at least, am grateful. The show also has a more mature book with more adult characters than usual for Hammerstein – that probably thanks to his collaborator, Logan, as well as the fact that the musical is adapted from an award-winning set of stories by a fine writer, Michener. I have strong opinions about Hammerstein’s work. I think he was a great man, and did much to improve the quality of musical theaters, and open them up to more serious subjects. But as an actual craftsman, I often find his work more than a bit childish and off-putting. He is in better shape with this show that any other he wrote, in my opinion, though the book for King & I has a lot to recommend it.

The music is, I believe, the most beautiful and evocative Rodgers ever wrote for a show, and that is really saying something. No one composes more memorable songs, more romantic melodies, than Rodgers, and this show allowed a full expression of that part of his work.

A fearless show that attacks bigotry in several ways, as Hammerstein was often prone to do. I’ve always found South Pacific an emotional experience, and though I am generally burned out with R&H, this show, along with The King & I, are so superlative that they continue to move me to this day. Their deepest and most thoughtful show, with gorgeous melodies, and I believe a show that will survive for a long time.

By the way, little surprise that “Some Enchanted Evening” became the huge hit of the show. While accompanying a production, I looked over the score for the number of times that melody is heard, and I think it came out to 22 times. If you heard a song 22 times in a night, you’d walk out humming it, too.

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering)



This is a show that demands singers, trained singers with really fine voices. The score tends to be rich, melodic, and at times almost operatic. It is not a hard score to learn, not particularly a difficult score to play. But you will absolutely require a Musical Director with serious theater chops and an understanding of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s brand of song.  Your orchestra should be reasonably pro, but there are harder scores to play.

Nellie – Mezzo/alto, warm and inviting voice, great clarity with lyrics and melodies, must sing beautifully.

Emile – Classical, operatic baritone, warm, emotional voice but with size.

Bloody Mary – Mezzo/alto, rich, full voice, with lots of personality.

Lt. Cable – Tenor, full, romantic voice capable of expression.

Liat – Non-singing role.

Billis – Comic baritone, acting and character more important than singing chops.

Ngana – Mezzo child, a girl age 11, cast for singing and appearance. Should speak to be able to learn some French.

Jerome – Tenor, age 8, cast for singing and appearance. Some French.

Sailors – Baritones and tenors, good belt voices.

Nurses – Sopranos and altos, sweet upper registers, nice belts.


The seebees and the nurses do almost all the real movement in this show, along with Nellie. A Choreographer will want to focus on a few numbers, and let the Director take the others. The Choreographer should take on “Dites Moi”, “Bloody Mary Is The Girl I Love”, “There Is Nothing Like A Dame”, “I’m Gonna’ Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair”, “Honey Bun”. These numbers, along with a soft shoe at the top of Act Two, and a few reprises, should provide the show a sense of fun, of “theater”, and of motion. This show can start to feel a bit stiff, even rigid, unless these numbers all do their work on the audience, and loosen up the show. Rodgers & Hammerstein and Logan were right to place these numbers, even if the sensibility of “Dame” and “Wash That Man” seem old-fashioned and either quaint or embarrassing today.

A Choreographer should know that this show will be cast for voices first. This also lets the Choreographer know that he/she will be staging some non-dancers, even in group numbers, and that he will need to get a good head start, as well as come up with movement that such talent does well. Also., there are traditional ways to do a few of these numbers, especially “Dame,” and you move away from them at your peril. Usually the men prowl about the stage as if hungrily looking for something, and glare at the audience, walking, not dancing, posing and almost freezing for the chorus. Is this the only way this number can be done? Um, probably not, but maybe…? Pretty risky to throw out staging this well known.


Done traditionally, this cast is large, and an emphasis should be placed in almost every case of strong and trained voices. This is a musical that is really very largely about its music. If you haven’t an excellent Nellie, don’t bother to do this show.

Nellie – Lovely, from the Bible belt in America, mature, but restricted in spite of herself by the bigotries of her upbringing. An essentially loving and accepting soul. Must be beautiful enough to explain why men are drawn to her. Must move well. Cast for singing and look first, then acting, then dance, but she really must be a triple-threat. Note that Mary Martin was a great, big star even when she did this show.

Emile – The singing, that’s where it all is for this character, though he must be a good actor, appear to be a French planter, and at least in his late 40s, though it’s better if he’s in his 50s, even his 60s, since he says that if he and Nellie have children, she will be raising them after he dies. His “advanced” age, in fact, is a part of the high stakes of the story. Must be attractive, physically strong in appearance. Cast voice and look, then acting. He does have quite a bit to do as an actor, by the way, but it’s limited to just a few emotions overall, so this is sometimes cast with an opera star.

Bloody Mary – As described in the outline, and old enough to be the mother of a 17 year old beauty. Must appear Polynesian. Some of her pigeon-English dialogue may feel embarrassing. Some research should be done on the part of the actress to get this right, and make changes as needed in dialogue that really is questionable. Remember, she always chews beetle nuts – what would those do to her teeth? Cast for voice and look first, then acting. Must move a little.

Lt. Cable – Young, fit, All- American soldier, handsome. His voice must be a strong, evocative, young voice filled with passion. The romantic “juvenile” lead. Has a fair amount of acting to do. Cast for voice and look first., then acting. Does not need to move at all.

Billis – Comic lead, maybe in his 30s-40s, a con man extraordinaire, always looking for the angle. But also a romantic deep down, rooting for Nellie, even in love with her in his own way and willing to work his manipulative magic on her behalf. In fact, it seems he’s willing to do almost anything for her. Cast for acting first, age and a look, then singing (which he must do well enough), and movement, as he will have some. Does not need to be a “dancer’, however.

Captain Brackett – Speaking role, the man in charge of the base and local activities. A straight shooter looking at the big picture and willing to break some eggs. But like all the men in this piece, a softie deep down who is happy to allow Nellie to spend time with Emile and his children. 40s-50s.

Commander Harbison – Speaking role. Younger than Brackett, thoughtful, perhaps too much so at times. Picks up experience and lessons quickly, though.

Ngana – 8 year-old Polynesian/French girl, must look like she belongs on the island. Must sing, be cute, speak French.

Jerome –11 year-old Polynesian/French boy, similar to his sister.

Liat – 17 year-old Polynesian young woman, should be truly beautiful and desirable. Doesn’t say much. Doesn’t sing, doesn’t dance. Cast for appearance, some acting.

Sailors – Seebees, must look like sailors, not chorus boys. Must sing, must move a bit, though it can appear stiff and ungraceful. Must do some acting, some have lines. These are men at war, young men far from home, and that must be communicated despite the “snappy” dialogue and singing and dancing.

Cast look and voices, then acting, then movement.

Nurses – Attractive, in their 20s, every sailor’s dream, of different hair color, heights, and you name it. Must sing, must move decently though they don’t really dance. Cast look and movement, acting, then voices.


The show must evoke Pacific Islands in the South Pacific, obviously. The main sets are the area in the base where Billis has his business, the beach, the Plantation (just one part of it, outdoors, overlooking the ocean), Brackett’s Office/the communication room, the beach, and parts of Bali Ha’i. The Thanksgiving show will need to be performed on what will look like a hand-built platform, using wood from local trees.

Then there’s the shower for the ladies, where clearly we cannot see anything!

This show provides some real challenges in terms of shifting sets and locations. All in all, I think it almost reads like a screenplay in this regard. The set demands are certainly one reason the show is not done often, and rarely by smaller theater groups. A Navy base, a plantation, a beach and a South Sea Island? Clearly these will need to be suggested rather than literal sets. I’ve seen productions use backdrops, but these flat representations also felt tike they flattened out the values of the locations, which should feel exotic, distant, and romantic.

I think the mood to be created by the sets is far more important than any information they might provide about locations we’re already told about in nearly every scene. This show’s strength is largely found in its two love stories, told in a distant and troubled, but romantic place. Hints of shapes and colors, a sense of an ocean, clouds, trees, will serve better than photographic realism. I’ve seen South Pacific done in the round, on essentially a bare stage/unit set,. And it worked well enough, but the actors and music really had to carry all the dramatic weight as the tech elements didn’t help much. There are shows that benefit from a more experimental approach. I sort of doubt this is one of them, but a designer must work within the limits of his company’s wherewithal. And for this show, recorded sounds can help. The cars and machines of the Navy base, polite birds at the plantation, wild jungle life on Bali Ha’i will help create a mood.

On a unit stage, never show Billis’ shop, just show the beach where so much of the action occurs, and have his “employees” and wares show up there. That will cover two sets, effectively. And the
shower” can be rolled on and off, or even dropped from the rafters as a rectangular set of drapes.

If you have a proscenium stage, play the Thanksgiving show on the apron, in front of the main drape.

Brackett’s office should basically consist of a hut, or suggestion of one, with a desk or two, a few chairs, and a military radio. These can perhaps largely be carried in and out by actors or crew, but it will need to be done very quickly. This set could also be set on a corner of the apron. Place an American flag, and the Navy flag, over his door.

We arrive at the two exotic settings, where all the romance occurs. The Plantation only needs to show the one outdoor view with some chairs, a small table, perhaps some vines and a tree or two hanging overhead, lush but gardened and organized, with the view of the ocean below, as indicated earlier. Keep this set uncluttered if you can, and simple. The vines and trees could be dropped from the ceiling.

Bali Ha’i is another issue altogether. An uncontrolled tropical island, perhaps with an ancient statue. A tribute to some ancient God, something like those found on Easter Island, which is a Polynesian Island.

A native Polynesian boat dragged up on the beach might also help differentiate this set. And remember, this is a volcanic jungle island.

Again, vines and trees, but more lush, less shaped, wilder, promising surprises. And the two volcanoes in the background, either just the foot of one eating up the back of the stage, or a suggestion of one on a backdrop or multi-media representation (though I don’t think multi-media is right for this show). Somehow, make this volcanic Polynesian island feel like another world, one filled with mystery where anything might happen. As with Billis’ goods, have Mary’s goods carried on and off by her fellow natives, in her employ. Also, a thought – recorded bird and animal sounds for the island would make it “different”. Fade them out in favor of music.

You will need to get creative about executing the needed sets without spending a fortune building them, and you will need to be equally creative determining the flow of the scenes to make sure there’s no hold up while changing sets. If you have a proscenium stage, dropping the front drape and playing select scenes “in one”, on the apron center, might make set changes behind the drape happen without delays and unkind blackouts.

An open stage will present more problems, unless you go unit stage, or can fly stuff on and off. Those are pretty much the options that I think work for this show.

Pick your color scheme carefully. Dull greens and blacks for the jungle-like sets could make Navy uniforms sort of vanish into the background, and that won’t work. Besides, Jungles can have lots of colors in them., flowers and trees and insects can come in all sorts of diverse forms. And gun-metal colored walls for the military complex would be equally bad with such costumes. The dwellings used by the military should essentially feel native, made of trees, leaves, branches and the like.


This is a period piece, mid-late WWII. Military personnel should be in appropriate uniforms for a loosely-run Navy base in a tropical environment, with T-shirts visible in many cases. Shoes must be military issue.

Nurses had their own uniforms.

And native dress is specific, as well.

The point is, this period is easily researched for precision design and color choices. Get some color in, it’s a musical.


All the grass skirts and shrunken heads and boar’s tooth necklaces Billis and Mary peddle. Buckets for water, for the shower. Glasses and booze at the Plantation. The props for the Thanksgiving show, including coconut-bra for Billis, which will doubtless need to be constructed. Soldier’s weapons. The military radio in the Captain’s office. Flowers for Nellie. Some interesting articles, but not a horrible job.


The show passes quickly through moods and locations, and they should each have their own look. The Plantation on top of a hill and surrounded by tall trees would have different light than the base on the beach. You should use follow spots for the Thanksgiving show, to make it feel like a “show” in a show, but that means avoiding their use the rest of the evening, probably. Compensate by warming actors up in set key lights for solos and duets.


Hair must be right for the military men and women, circa WWII. Military men should not look made-up, not should Emile, these are manly men. Liat should be stunning, young and sexual. Nellie must look clean, scrubbed, wholesome. Emile must look his age, but handsome and well-preserved, a virile man, so we understand Nellie’s interest in him.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Nellie, Emile, Cable, Bloody Mary, Billis.


This show is all about romance, but difficult rather than easy-to-accept romance. It trades on love-at-first-sight, for both love stories… but then, the Americans start to think twice and the relationships become rocky. This is a show largely about how we treat each other, and how we limit ourselves with our own biases. It won the Pulitzer in part because it is seriously about something. A director should understand the strong thematic spine of the show before starting. To emphasize this, design elements should stress differences. Costuming should make Emile foreign to Nellie, Americans foreign to native Polynesians. Sets should emphasize the differences, with Emile’s place being civilized, a bit ornate, old school European to some extent. The American base is work-a-day, military, straight-forward, industrious. Bali Ha’i should feel ancient, primitive, wild. In this way, we step down from civilization progressively toward a more ancient way of life, and the look should change in the sets. Lighting can emphasize these qualities, as well, with Bali Ha’i being lit in saturated colors that make it feel wild, rich, old.

So the barriers that exist between the lovers are cultural, as well as barriers of age and bias. It cannot be easy for them to get together, so we will root for them.

Also, there’s a real and terrible war occurring around them. The occasional sound of Japanese planes, even bombing in the distance, and people stopping for a moment to look up and respond, would help create this reality. Seeing that the soldiers, throughout Act II, are preparing to go to war, watching the camp militarize, grow increasingly organized, take arms, would also help.

The more that you can do to create a world that actually existed in the mid 40s, a real war where men really die and the stakes are high, the more that element can counter-balance the romantic aspects of the show. The romance will warm up the war, but the war will provide heat and danger to the romance. A very potent combination of qualities that can make this show feel fresh, alive, and different from any other show I can think of.

South Pacific could be the most wonderful of shows, if you have the resources and passion to get it right, to dig into interesting details and create the universe that was the South Pacific during WW II, while always getting the musical theater elements right, too. I’d try to keep the show reasonably low-tech, in keeping with the feel of the war, of the islands.

This was, not long ago, perhaps the most popular show in the Musical Theater repertoire. It could easily be again.