If you’re thinking that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s South Pacific is some tired old warhorse of a musical, you don’t really know the show. Of course the music is familiar — “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” and “Bali Ha’I” — and the show was a hit more than 60 years ago (it was, in fact, a Tony Award winner), but it was quite daring for its time. It’s a love story, to be sure, but the romance between a U.S. Navy nurse during World War II and a French plantation owner who has fathered children with a native woman on the tropical island swirls with issues of racism.
“They Have to Be Carefully Taught,” a song about how children are not born with prejudiced attitudes, was nearly cut by the show’s producers; only when Hammerstein refused to proceed with the show was it kept. Bear in mind that this was nearly two decades before issues of civil rights and racial unrest became top-of-mind with most Americans.
It can be argued that South Pacific began some important dialogues on this topic. It didn’t hurt that Richard Rodgers’ magical score was one of his best. So it’s even better that the current tour, at the Aronoff Center for a two-week stay, uses a big, authentic orchestra to give us the full effect. But don’t just listen to the music — pay attention to the message.
Through Oct. 3 at the Aronoff Center downtown. Tickets: $22.50-$64.
Go here for Rick Pender's review and for show times, tickets and venue details.