Organizers for the April 7 reunion of cast members from the original Broadway run of South Pacific are still looking for veterans of the landmark Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.
William Thunhurst, a former ensemble member co-organizing the luncheon to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, told Playbill On-Line Feb. 26 that some cast members were located since PBOL's first story on the reunion.
Still among the "lost" or unlocated performers from the 1949-54 run of the musical are Bert Popwell, Biff McGuire, Barbara Luna, Betta St. John, Melle Matthews, Bunny Warner, Karen Lewis, Billie Worth, William Diehl, Jose Perez, Michael DeLeon, Evelyn Colby, Martha Wright Manucci and Richard Loo.
The April 7 luncheon date coincides with the opening date of South Pacific. Thunhurst points out many of the cast members in the show's five-year run were themselves veterans of World War II, the Pacific theatre of which is depicted in the musical.
"It seems right now with all the books and movies about World War II, it's a very hot subject," said Thunhurst, himself a veteran. 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. Former cast members will be flying into New York for the luncheon from as far away as Los Angeles and London.
Thunhurst, an ensemble tenor from the cast, and former "nurse" Roz Lowe Maas have been poring over lists of replacement cast members, trying to track them down for the reunion.
Anyone with knowledge of the whereabouts of the "lost" cast members, or cast members who wish to attend, should call Thunhurst in Pittsburgh at (412) 826-1711 or Maas in Los Angeles (818) 990-3792.
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 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.
The 78-year-old 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 Thunhirst. "As actors we recognized what a family we had."
The Phantom of the Opera is the current tenant of the Majestic Theatre, where South Pacific began.
Among South Pacific replacement cast members 1949-54 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. Larry Hagman, Mary Martin's son, was an ensemble member in the London company, and was invited by Thunhurst, but has a scheduling conflict.
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.
On April 7, Dallas Theater Center will begin previews of a revival of the musical, officially opening April 13 and continuing to May 2. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization said some 300 productions of South Pacific are produced in the U.S. and Canada every year.
-- By Kenneth Jones