They may not be younger than springtime, but veterans of the cast of the original run of South Pacific on Broadway will share happy talk for a reunion April 7, the 50th anniversary of the musical's Broadway opening, April 7, 1949.
Reunion organizers William Thunhurst and Roz Lowe Maas (who were in the show's ensemble) are seeking company members of the original five year Broadway run of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which played 1949-54 at the Majestic and Broadway theatres.
Former cast members will be flying into New York for the luncheon from as far away as Los Angeles and London.
South Pacific starred Mary Martin (Nellie Forbush), Ezio Pinza (Emile DeBecque), Juanita Hall (Bloody Mary), Myron McCormick (Luther Billis) and William Tabbert (Joe Cable), who are all now deceased.
The 78-year-old Thunhurst, who eventually left acting to become a commercial advertising producer and subsequently managing director of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera in the 1970s, told Playbill On-Line that some 30 former cast members are expected. They are trying to nab a room at Sardi's. He and Maas have been poring over lists of replacement cast members, trying to track them down for the reunion. Among the "lost" performers are Betta St. John, Melle Matthews, Bunny Warner, Pat Finch Porterfield, Karen Lewis, Billie Worth, William Diehl, Jose Perez, Michael DeLeon, Evelyn Colby, Martha Wright Manucci and Richard Loo.
Among replacement cast members over the years were Ray Middleton (Emile), Jack Weston (Stewpot) and Jack Cassidy (ensemble), who have all died. The indefatigable Ray Walston played Luther Billis in the national tour and in the film.
The musical was considered a landmark show for its subject matter -- a nurse (Martin) in World War II South Pacific confronts her prejudices when she falls in love with a Frenchman (Pinza) who has mixed-race children. The subplot of Lt. Joe Cable (Tabbert) falling in love with an island girl prompted one of Hammerstein's fiercest social statements (about intolerance), "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught." The song is generally thought to be the reason the show snagged the Pulitzer.
Thunhurst was a replacement cast member (1950-53) who played the radio operator, sang tenor parts and understudied Tabbert (but never went on as Lt. Cable). Thunhirst said the company was aware that the show was groundbreaking -- in subject matter and style. Director Josh Logan, he said, wanted the scenes to appear and disappear seamlessly, like cinema.
"The cast of South Pacific, they were all just A-1 folks," said Thunhurst. "As actors we recognized what a family we had."
Occasionally over the years the cast of the show would gather for lunches in New York, and Richard Rodgers would join them, Thunhurst said.
South Pacific won nine Tony Awards, and closed in 1954.
Company members who wish to attend the reunion should call Thunhurst in Pittsburgh at (412) 826-1711 or Roz Lowe Maas in Los Angeles (818) 990 3792.
-- By Kenneth Jones