Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Some Enchanted Evening Indeed

If you want to experience romance forbidden by society’s morals and ideals, then South Pacific tells the story and draws you in it. The irresistible new revival of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein’s South Pacific since 1949 brought to attention the theme of love and racial tolerance, a concept still relevant today. Held at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, South Pacific captivated its audience with its dreamy setting, blast-from-the-past costumes, catchy melodies, and adept cast.

Set during the time of World War II, South Pacific centers around two romances. The first between Nellie Forbush, a naïve Navy nurse, and Emile de Becque, a wealthy French plantation owner and the second romance between Liat, a native teenager and Joe Cable, a handsome Princeton lieutenant . Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Nellie discovers Emile’s “bizarre” past that conflicts with her morals. Both romances face tension and likewise, Lt. Cable fights with his own reputation and ideals when his life changes because of his sexual encounter with Liat. With their love problems unresolved, what happens with Nellie and Liat when both men are sent on a dangerous mission to spy nearby Japanese islands? Nearing the end of the play, I desperately hoped for that oh-so-hard-to-obtain happy ending for both love encounters that bloomed on the Polynesian island.

Paulo Szot’s voice penetrated the air in the theater, especially in “Some Enchanted Evening”, and Kelli O’Hara definitely played the part of the typical southern accented white Navy nurse. The exuberant Seabees, led by Luther Billis, were central to comic relief when he and his crew sang “Nothin’ Like a Dame”. At the start of the second act, there was the additional laugh when the audience “accidentally” peeked on Danny Burstein. Crucial to Liat and Cable’s romance was the Tonkinese entrepreneur of the island, Bloody Mary. Her introduction opens with a beachy setting with sounds of the ocean waves, sandy hills, and coconut palm trees. Exactly like the description from the book by James Michener, Maryann Hu was what I pictured Bloody Mary to be: her unusual gait, bloody red makeup, unruly hair and famous expression, “you like?”, which always made the audience chuckle at her provocative salesmanship.

Bringing up the controversial theme of racism, the song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” which first stirred the audience in 1949, continues to make the audience second-think the concept of learned prejudice today. The concept of miscegany was and still is being judged and tests the cliché of discrimination. Society in Little Rock, Arkansas set rules and abided by segregation. With the rules set by society, Nellie has to decide whether to overcome society’s morals and condone Emile’s previous romance or reject love and conform to society’s status quo. Likewise, with Cable’s background as an Ivy League graduate, he is struggling to break away from society’s expectations of him and marry Liat. More ubiquitous as it was in the past, interracial marriages are more existent today but still present a challenge to those who face racial prejudice.

As the first play I have ever seen, South Pacific was certainly an enchanted evening.