After seeing Lincoln Center’s lushly romantic production of “South Pacific” (its first Broadway revival since it first opened in 1949), I could easily be convinced that this, rather than “Gyspy,” deserved the title of “greatest musical.” Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II wrote what is arguably the most romantic musical comedy score ever, featuring “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine” among many others.
Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, the musical’s original director, fashioned a book that dovetails very organically and elegantly with the songs; book and songs combined together have emotional and even intellectual range that are the envy of most musicals. Set on a tropical island during World War II, the musical tells the passionate story of two couples — Navy Airman Joe Cable & a young local native girl Liat and US Navy nurse Nellie Forbush & French plantation owner Emile de Becque.
The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization have painstakingly recreated the original orchestrations, and they are played, as originally intended, by a 30-piece ensemble, a huge pit orchestra by today’s standards. This is underlined during the overture by a spine tingling coup de theatre that’s just too good to give away.
Oh, and did I mention a large, and very attractive male chorus of sailors, and a female chorus of nurses whose commander is the height of ‘40s lesbian chic? But that’s just the icing on the cake: director Bartlett Sher has crafted a production that is undeniably musical theatre history in the making, and not to be missed.