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South Pacific

And so at long last, the national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific comes to Shea’s this week. In New York, this revival was nearly perfect in every detail. At minimum, this will be a lush Rodgers and Hammerstein songfest. You can’t go wrong.

While Blithe Spirit was written in 1941, the story contains no mention of the war. South Pacific, by contrast, takes us to the thick of the conflict. Here we meet two Americans struggling against their prejudices as they seek for love. Whereas Noël Coward predicts the oncoming sexual revolution with invisible subtlety, South Pacific, based on stories from James Michener’s 1947 book, Tales of the South Pacific, hits the issue of prejudice head on with a story that is dizzingly romantic, powerfully dramatic, and socially astute.

This is one of the greatest American musicals of all time.

Stationed in the South Pacific, Ensign Nellie Forbush from Little Rock, Arkansas, finds herself falling in love with dashing Frenchman Emile de Becque until she learns that the mother of his children was a Polynesian woman. In a parallel plot, Lieutenant Joseph Cable falls in love with a Polynesian girl, only to reject her as things become serious.

South Pacific was one of the biggest Broadway hits in history, and countless productions have been seen since. Still, those original performances by Mary Martin as Nellie and Metropolitan Opera star Ezio Pinza as Emile are legendary, and every subsequent production has had to live up to that standard.

The score gives the world some of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most enduring music: “Bali Ha’i,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” “Happy Talk,” “Younger Than Springtime,” and, of course, “Some Enchanted Evening.” Lieutenant Cable’s musical explanation of how bigotry is learned, “You’ve Got to Be Taught,” has become an anthem to human understanding.

South Pacific will play Shea’s Performing Arts Center for one week only, through May 6. Call 1-800-745-3000.