23 Mar 1999
You may meet a stranger across a couple of crowded rooms at events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific in April.
The Museum of the City of New York will unveil South Pacific memorabilia April 7 (the anniversary date) at an exhibit called "Younger Than Springtime," marking the 50th anniversary of the 1949 Broadway opening of the groundbreaking Broadway musical.
Part of the museum's continuous "Broadway!" exhibit, "Younger Than Springtime" will run at least a year and feature historical information and rare glimpses into the making of the Pulitzer Prize-winning show. The exhibit includes costume and set design sketches, posters and Playbills, a video kiosk with rare TV footage of Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, Tony Awards, Martin's oversize "Honey Bun" sailor suit, and more.
The Museum of the City of New York is at 1220 Fifth Ave at 103rd St. Call (212) 534-1672 for information.
On April 8, at 8 PM, Symphony Space, by arrangement with The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, will present "Some Enchanted Evening: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of South Pacific."
Hosted by Symphony Space co-founder and artistic director Isaiah Sheffer, with guest commentator Ted Chapin (president of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization), the evening will feature a discussion with members of the original cast of South Pacific, including behind the scenes stories and backstage recollections by chorus folk and Betta St. John (the original Liat) and BarBara Luna (the original Ngana, who sang "Dites Moi").
"Symposium" is too stuffy a word for the evening, according to R&H's Bert Fink. "Celebration" is more appropriate, he said, particularly since the evening will be punctuated by live performances by Broadway's George Hearn (singing Emile deBecque songs), Liz Callaway (as Nellie Forbush) and cabaret star David Campbell (as Lt. Cable). Fink hinted to Playbill On-Line that a trunk song or two -- "My Girl Back Home"? "Loneliness of Evening"? "Suddenly Lucky"? -- may even be part of the evening.
Also featured in the evening will be rarely-seen 1954 film footage of original stars Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza singing an 8-minute recreation of scenes from the show. Not publicly seen since its original broadcast (a General Foods-sponsored tribute to R&H, run on all networks), the 16mm film footage includes a part of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," a reprise of "Some Enchanted Evening" with both stars and the entire song and dance of Martin performing "A Wonderful Guy."
Fink said the footage was shot concurrent to the 1949-54 run, so the staging is "fresh" and "absolutely" based on the original. That footage will also be shown at the Museum of the City of New York, in the laser-disc format.
Discussion with other cast members from the original 1949-54 Broadway company will provide a rare look at post-war Broadway, said Fink. Many of the cast members were war veterans, and women from the cast entertained in the war effort. "They will evoke the immediate post-war era and, I think, quite movingly, they all have stories about the war itself," said Fink.
Tickets are $15. Symphony Space is at 2537 Broadway, at 95th Street. Call the Symphony Space box office at (212) 864-5400.
Although the stars and featured players are all gone now, as many as 40 original cast members will attend an April 7 theatre district luncheon and take a bow at the curtain call of the matinee of The Phantom of the Opera, at the Majestic Theatre, where South Pacific played. That moment is only open to Phantom ticketholders.
South Pacific, drawn from James Michener's stories, "Tales of the South Pacific," was considered groundbreaking for the commingling of an exotic wartime locale, its romantic plot and score and its serious exploration of racial bigotry, summed up in the Hammerstein lyric, "You've Got to be Carefully Taught." The song is generally thought to be the reason the musical captured the Pulitzer Prize.
-- By Kenneth Jones