To fully understand the “South Pacific” Broadway revival touring at the Academy of Music, it helps to remember the time the original was staged.
“In 1949, every member of the audience had some connection to WWII,’’ says Ted Chapin, the president and executive director of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, who helped get the classic back on Broadway in 2008. “The play’s about people caught up in war. [James] Michener [author of ‘Tales of the South Pacific,’ on which the musical is based] wrote about people who were there to support the war.”
While many are familiar with the movie version of the play and the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein songs — “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” “Some Enchanted Evening” — the original ’49 production offered a different, perhaps darker tone for its audience.
It took nearly 50 years for “South Pacific” to return to Broadway, and Chapin was insistent on getting it right when Lincoln Center Theatre approached him about staging one (the result was a smash that garnered seven Tonys).
Even the musical’s unflinching depiction of war-time racism is back among the showy numbers. “There’s a lot of wisdom in ‘You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,’” Chapin says of the song with lyrics “you’ve got to be taught/to hate and fear.” “That’s pretty strong stuff for 1949,”?he says. “I’d love to say we’re completely beyond that, but we’re not.”
Tomorrow through Nov. 28 Academy of Music, 1420 Locust St., $20-$110