South Pacific, the famous film and play, was revived on Broadway in 2008 and played to enthusiastic crowds in a small Southern town last night.
Students from the drama department at Northwestern State University put on their own revival of the play, South Pacific, which has been so popular on Broadway and with critics that it won seven Tonys in 2008.
For younger audiences, the songs and dances of the play might likely entertain, but the theme of racial stereotypes and problems of accepting others with cultural and racial differences was a dramatic step in the history of theater at the time South Pacific was made. It became popular, however, for its offerings on many dimensions. It was first done as a play in 1949 with Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, then a movie in 1958 with Mitzi Gaynor and Ezio Pinza.
The story is of wartime, of young men and women on an island in the South Pacific, where cultures collide, where differences become magnified and who find among the native peoples challenges to their stereotyped beliefs and values.
The heroine, Nellie Flatbush, from Little Rock, Arkansas falls in love with a Frenchman who sired two children with a brown-skinned girl who had died years before. Flatbush struggles with the knowledge her lover went outside his race for romance, while she deals with her passions for the man.
Drama student Victoria Olivier plays a lead, the character of Nellie Flatbush, in the play South Pacific, now being presented at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.
In the meantime, a young military fellow, whose character is called Lieutenant Joe Cable, falls in love with one of the native girls, the daughter of Bloody Mary, a humorous but nevertheless somewhat stereotyped depiction of Polynesian culture. He recognizes his conflicts, and the prejudices that have brought them when he refuses to marry the native girl, in the song, “You Have to Be Carefully Taught,” the words that reflect how people learn to hate others through the ways they are educated.
South Pacific can trigger memories, of changing times, of people who had to live on the edge with something happening in the world removed from them while they find themselves in a place unknown and unfamiliar. It is a theme people talk about today with the speed of life decades after South Pacific was first shown to audiences in 1949.
In the story, the characters must face new challenges through the prism of their attitudes and beliefs and find in them what opportunities are lost and what opening the heart might mean.
LeeCee Felix, a drama student and singer-dancer, plays Liat in the play South Pacific, a South Pacific Island girl who is rejected by a suitor because of racial and cultural stereotypes.
The many songs from the play are familiar from musical history of America over decades, and that alone can bring positive audience response. The songs include, A Cockeyed Optimist, Dites-Moi, Twin Soliloquies, Some Enchanted Evening, Bloody Mary, My Girl Back Home, There is Nothing Like a Dame, Bali Hai, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair, A Wonderful Guy, Younger Than Springtime, Happy Talk, Honey Bun, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught, and This Nearly Was Mine some often find themselves humming or singing, with lyrics that can be found on the Internet.
The Broadway play revival with some of its award-winning cast has been touring the country this month, playing in Hartford right now.
But for Natchitoches, Louisiana the play South Pacific came to life in familiar ways, with the young people of the town, before an enthusiastic crowd.
Last night drama students brought again, to a town in the South that has experienced racial conflicts in its past and continues to struggle with the legacies of them, a reminder of the messages the play dealt with years ago, about stereotypes and how to deal with others in a changing world, not unlike today.