South Pacific is one of the classics of the American Theater, and part of a current wave of revivals; it is a musical journey to what I consider one of the most geographically attractive areas of the globe. Certainly as I look back at my development as a geographer, books and movies on the South Pacific loom very large in pushing me into the field. The National Geographic took me there starting around 1962, In high school and college I acted in productions of South Pacific, and read books on the place. Even today I subscribe to Islands magazine and get dreamy over every issue.
South Pacific is the creation of Richard Rogers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein, II (lyrics). It traces itself back to James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific (another item on my high school reading list).
The songs are the show in this one. The grand overture sets the stage for the sweep of the waves (it was not included in the Fritz production, but the videotape has it). "Some Enchanted Evening" is one of the great love songs. Bali Ha'i, itself, casts a mystical mood over those caught by the lure of the islands, but trapped by snow drifts, city traffic, or too many committee meetings (one of those has to apply to each of you). "Carefully Taught" brings in the message of tolerance, or the world's lack of it. The comedy tunes lighten the ultimately romantic and tragic mist of the story. There is even sexism in "There is nothin' like a dame." (It is World War II.)
The setting is the beautiful South Pacific. Every production has the expected palm trees and sparkling water, but remember that even details of life in the region are shown. For instance, Bloody Mary is Tokinese. She represents the heavy Asian (Chinese, Indian) immigration into the island realm.
As we teach geography we have to remember that we love it because it personally says something to us. We fell in love with specific places, or places in general. This pushed us into the field. South Pacific is one more opportunity to catch some kid's imagination and bring her/him into the fold.
For your classroom, the 1958 film version, widely available at cheap prices on DVD, was produced in Kauai, Hawaii, with some of the Bali Ha'i scenes shot in Fiji. Charles Champlin [Ballyho and Bali Ha'i: Hollywood's love affair with the South Seas. 1994. Islands (October): 160] points out that filming on one island and calling it another is very common in Hollywood productions about the Southern Pacific region. So, we combine geographic theater with great songs and educational themes. A true classic.
If your room is filled with Country Music fans, then the Carnegie Hall version with Reba Macintyre as Nelly Forbush could be your choice. The geography is diminished as this is a concert version. However, you can draw her fans into the story. At the time her casting was criticized by the eastern press, but what would a girl from Little Rock sound like if not Reba Macintyre?
Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 1995. Media Beat: South Pacific. Dakota Alliance January 1995: 7.