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South Pacific, a Broadway classic, opens June 24

Showtime is near, Pagosans, and the excitement is building.

Music Booster’s production of “South Pacific” opens one week from tomorrow, Friday, June 24, at 7 p.m. It will run again on Saturday, June 25, at 7 and on Sunday at 2 p.m. for the sole matinee performance. The show will continue the following weekend, June 30, July 1 and 2, all at 7 p.m. at the high school auditorium.

As we await the opening performance, “South Pacific’s” Pagosa debut continues to tantalize local music and theater lovers alike. Previously I’ve reviewed the origins of the show and its storyline, so I’d like to provide a bit more background on the show’s Broadway run as well as later film versions to further enhance your understanding of why this show is considered such a classic.

“South Pacific “made its debut not on Broadway, but in New Haven Connecticut at the Shubert Theater on March 7, 1949. This was a venue that is frequently used to “try out” a production to see how it will be received. In the case of “South Pacific,” it was so well received that when movie producer Mike Todd saw the production he told Mary Martin, the female principal, not to take it to New York. Martin was astonished at this comment and asked him why to which he replied, “ Because it’s too good for them.” However, director Logan and producer Hayward in association with Rodgers and Hammerstein did take it to Broadway just one month later on April 7, 1949, where it opened to a resounding success at the Majestic Theater. In June of 1953 the show moved to the Broadway Theater. “South Pacific” ran for nearly five years and became the fifth longest running show in theater history up to that point after 1,925 performances. It closed on Jan. 16, 1954.

“South Pacific” won more awards than any other show up to that time including ten Tony Awards, some of which were Best Musical, Best Score, Best Libretto, Best Director, and all four acting awards. It also received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as the Tony Award for Best Author. In addition, the show has received numerous Drama Desk Awards.

The show went on tour in the U.S. in 1950 and thrilled audiences in 118 cities before closing on March 26, 1955. The cast of the road version included Janet Blair as Nellie, who was followed by Jeanne Bal and Iva Withers. Performers Roger Eastham, Webb Tilton, and Alan Gerard were to fill Emile’s role in succession.

In 1958 a film version was created by Josh Logan and starred Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor, John Kerr, Ray Walston, and Juanita Hall. Interestingly, Gaynor and Walston were the only actors whose voices were not dubbed for the film.

A 2001 made -for -television film version of the show starred Glenn Close as Nellie, Rade Sherbedgia as Emile, and Harry Connick Jr. as Cable. The producers changed the order of some of the songs, omitted a few, and cut “Bali H’ai” to half its original length. Some critics contend that it was a better film version than the 1958 vintage because it more realistically portrayed the theme of racism that the original script intended. However, those who have seen both versions may disagree with this assessment.

Pagosa’s stage version is soon to become part of the long history of reprises of this marvelous production that have taken place over so many years and in sundry locations.

Local actors and singers will take their place among the many who’ve portrayed the characters of this fabled South Pacific locale.

We’ll be excited to see familiar faces in new roles as the curtain rises next Friday. Talented singers such as Joseph Portal, Dave Armbrecht (Emile), Anne Price (Nellie), Laith Scherer (Billis), Riley Gardner (Cable), Vanessa Morris (Bloody Mary) Jay Davison (Captain Brackett), Phil Kuhl (Commander Harbison) and Anne Townsend (Liat) are sure to delight as is the remainder of the cast when the lights come up opening night.

Don’t miss out on a Pagosa classic; get your tickets at the Chamber from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays or at the door. See you at the show!

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