|About this Recording
8.120785 - RODGERS: South Pacific (Original Broadway Cast) (1949)
Music by Richard Rodgers • Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Original Broadway Cast and Bonus Recordings, 1949-1951
It’s all about historical perspective.
Nowadays,when we think of South Pacific, we tend to view it simply as one more hit musical from the golden team of Rodgers & Hammerstein: a heartwarming show full of glorious songs.
But to the opening night audience, it was much,much more than that.
When the curtain rose on 7 April 1949, not even four full years had passed since the end of the Second World War. A musical drama set in the Pacific theatre, filled with soldiers loving, fighting and dying,was bound to have an emotional resonance that we can only guess at today.
By contrast, fourteen years passed from the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 to its depiction in Miss Saigon (1989). And if any musicals have been written about Operation Desert Storm or the recent conflict in Iraq,we’ve yet to see them.
Consequently, when you listen to this original cast recording, the experience will be intensified by heeding what’s between the lines and behind the songs.
Nellie’s cheerful A Cockeyed Optimist, for example, with its answer to the nay-sayers who insist “that we’re done and we might as well be dead” takes on new resonance when you position it in a world where the first nuclear bombs are about to be detonated.
Some Enchanted Evening isn’t just a passionate love song. It’s about two people surrounded by death who are hoping a personal relationship could make sense of the insanity around them.
And a ballad with the heart-rending simplicity of Younger Than Springtime acquires added pathos when you realize that the solider who sweetly sings it is soon to die in combat.
The magic of the original South Pacific is that it didn’t have to overplay the war card, because everyone in the audience remembered what had happened all too well.
But for us to appreciate the depth of its achievement now, it helps to put ourselves back in that 1949 mindset as much as possible.
It also makes sense for us to realize just where South Pacific sat in the timeline of the considerable careers of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Each of them had already enjoyed success with other partners before they came together to write Oklahoma! in 1943.
Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) was the elder of the two. As the grandson of famed producer and theatre owner Oscar Hammerstein, he came naturally to the business and had written his first Broadway musical, Always You, before his 25th birthday.
Through the years,Hammerstein wrote with an assortment of collaborators, most notably Sigmund Romberg, Rudolph Friml and Jerome Kern. Although his prolific output included the book and lyrics for hits like Rose Marie and Show Boat, he also had more than his share of flops. In fact, when Rodgers approached him about a partnership, he hadn’t had a truly successful show in over a decade.
Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) had his first Broadway credit for Poor Little Ritz Girl in 1920, shortly after his 18th birthday. His lyricist on the project was Lorenz Hart, with whom he would write two dozen other shows over the next 22 years. During that time, they created an enviable catalogue of popular songs (“Where Or When”, “My Funny Valentine”,“Johnny One Note”) and a wide assortment of hits, including The Boys From Syracuse and Pal Joey.
But by 1942 Hart’s alcoholic instability had brought an end to their partnership and Rodgers turned to Hammerstein.
In one of the miracle “second marriage” stories of modern show-business, the two new partners proved even more successful in this later pairing than they had been before.
Oklahoma! set a new standard by which hit shows would be measured and achieved a complex integration of music, dance and drama that would form a template for most serious musicals of the future.
Although not as great a commercial success, their 1945 show, Carousel,was an even more profound achievement. Next up was Allegro (1947), an experimental parable on the dangers of success that didn’t really work on any level. Consequently, when they set out to create the show that would become South Pacific,Rodgers and Hammerstein felt increased pressure to come up with a smash hit.
That feeling was intensified by the competition around them. Irving Berlin’s Annie Get your Gun, Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate and Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon had proven that Rodgers and Hammerstein weren’t the only figures in the landscape.
Director Joshua Logan was the one who first read James Michener’s Tales From The South Pacific and decided it would make a fine musical. Rodgers and Hammerstein agreed and signed him on as director.
Hammerstein, however, lacked any military experience, and found writing the book problematic. He brought in Logan, a veteran, as his collaborator and the billing and royalty negotiations among the trio that followed were to prove highly unpleasant.
During rehearsals, numerous changes were made to the score.
Two ballads (Loneliness of Evening and My Girl Back Home) were cut from the show, but appear here as bonus tracks from a 1951 recording that the original Nellie Forbush, Mary Martin, made with Percy Faith. (Martin sings the latter as “His Girl Back Home”.)
Both songs were to reappear in the 1958 film version: “My Girl Back Home”as a solo for John Kerr and the lyrics to “Loneliness Of Evening”were incorporated as a poem in a love scene between Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor.
Other changes included a solo for Ezio Pinza called “Now Is The Time”being dropped in favor of the haunting This Nearly Was Mine.
But the most troubled song slot proved to be the one that finally yielded Younger Than Springtime. Logan kept rejecting everything Rodgers and Hammerstein came up with including a now-lost number called “My Friend” and another selection,“Suddenly Happy”, whose music resurfaced as “Getting To Know You”in The King And I.
But when the show finally opened in New York, it was greeted by a unanimous chorus of critical acclaim, including “a show of rare enchantment”, “an utterly captivating work of theatrical art” and “an occasion worth celebrating”.
It went on to run 1925 performances and to win a then-record 10 Tony Awards as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Part of the show’s success can be heard in the way that a wide assortment of musical styles blend together to form a greater whole. Martin’s style is pure musical theatre and Pinza possesses a voice of operatic richness, while William Tabbert’s soaring tones combine the two. And then, there’s the ethnic appeal of Juanita Hall’s unique sound to add the exotic element.
Besides the two bonus Mary Martin selections, this recording also features Pinza’s recording of Bali Ha’i,which he recorded as a single six months after the show opened.
There are also four tracks from a 1949 RCA Victor recording which featured Al Goodman and his Orchestra,The Guild Choristers and – most interestingly – the Broadway show’s two understudies.
Dickinson Eastham stood by for Pinza and Sondra Deel did the same for Martin. On this recording, they get a chance to have their place in the sun.
Last, but certainly not least, there’s a medley of songs from the score recorded on the Decca label on 14 July 1949 by the twin piano duo of Eadie Griffith and H. Rack Godwin, popularly known as “Eadie and Rack”.
These are just a few of the numerous “spinoffs” that a hit show like South Pacific could generate in its heyday. And they all stand as tribute to a score of melodic richness and lyrical depth that continues to resonate today.
On its own, South Pacific still provides an enchanted evening. Taken with a healthy dose of historical hindsight, it can dazzle us even further.
– Richard Ouzounian
Though it was one of the best-selling Original Cast albums of all time, responsible more than any other single album for converting record buyers to the new ‘LP’ format in 1949, South Pacific has had a checkered sonic history. Originally recorded on 16-inch lacquer discs, as was the custom through the 1940s, the cast recordings were also captured on the newly developed magnetic tape. Various issues over the years have been taken from both sources, often with attempts to ‘modernize’ the sound by adding reverb or fake stereo. Early LP pressings suffer from distortion and diminished high frequencies, later ones have extra reverb and poor balance, and CD issues have suffered from faulty edits or defective tape sources and varying speeds. Two generations of record collectors have never heard the original sound recorded in 1949. However, the 78 masters were derived directly from the lacquers, and in 1950, the cast album appeared briefly on 45s, which also appear to be from the original lacquers and not an intermediate tape master. A clean 45 RPM set was used for this Naxos transfer. The Al Goodman recordings were issued on RCA’s budget ‘Bluebird Series’, but oddly enough were pressed on vinyl. Vinyl sources were also used for the extra selections by Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, the latter a 7-inch 33RPM single disc. Worth noting are the variations in some of these recordings: an entire extra set of lines in Dickinson Eastham’s performance of This Nearly Was Mine (which Pinza also sang, but on a broadcast, not on his Columbia recording) and different lyrics in the Guild Choristers’ version of There Is Nothing Like a Dame.
-- David Lennick
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