South Pacific opened on Broadway on 7th April 1949 and ran for 1925 performances. It was set in the World War II Pacific theatre and adapted from James A. Michener's Tales of the South Pacific. It was about American sailors and soldiers fighting, loving and dying. This album, despite its rather boxed sound, proves just how superior the original stage version was to the 1958 film that employed some extraordinary, intrusive colour techniques and starred a particularly wooden cast: Mitzi Gaynor, Rossano Brazzi, John Kerr France Nuyen and Juanita Hall (only Gaynor's and Nuyen's voices were not dubbed).
In the Broadway production, Mary Martin was a more mature, characterful Nellie (spelt Nelly on the back sleeve and Nellie in Richard Ouzounian's notes) Forbush, witty, street-wise but nonetheless willing to take a chance on romance. Listen to her cheerful 'A Cockeyed Optimist', then her sardonic 'I'm Gonna to Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair', and, in more sentimental mood, musing in 'Twin Soliloquies' how it would be to love her older French admirer, Emile de Becque. Ezio Pinza in this role brings colour and great expressiveness in his singing (such an individual, unmistakable voice) especially in the hit of the show, 'Some Enchanted Evening' and the lovely 'This Nearly Was Mine'. William Tabbert made a handsome and heroic Lt. Joe Cable and his hit number 'Younger than Springtime' is ardent enough if a little breathless.
Other unforgettable hits include the men's choruses, one addressed to 'Bloody Mary' and the other concerning the sex-starved sailors' dreaming 'There is Nothin' Like A Dame'.
This album has eight bonus tracks that include Mary Martin's youthful-sounding understudy Sandra Deel's rendering of 'A Cockeyed Optimist', Ezio Pinza singing Bloody Mary's song 'Bali Ha'i' and, interestingly, two ballads that were cut from the show: the exotic-sounding rumba, 'The Loneliness of Evening' and the sentimental 'My Girl Back Home' sung by Mary Martin as 'His Girl Back Home'.
A gem of a souvenir of a Broadway production that outshone the subsequent film.
David Wishart adds:-
Reviewing a recording of a renowned stage production on what is essentially a film music site presents certain problems for the writer. The reader is often going to be more familiar with the filmed version of a stage classic, and vocal performances apart, there is always a substantial difference between albums of stage casts and recordings of film tracks. Theatrical productions are cleverly formulated with a modest pit orchestra in mind – and although this is often augmented for a commercial recording, a filmed version of the same subject will inevitably be able to call on the dexterity of an army of expert orchestrators who in turn know that they have the resources of a massive symphony orchestra, and often a huge chorus to boot, at their disposal.
In the case of South Pacific there's no denying how marvelous Robert Russell Bennett's arrangements and orchestrations are for the original cast recording, but in tandem with a now-ageing and rather confined mono recording – well, it was 1949 - the superior (stereo) sound quality and sheer breadth and brilliance of the arrangements and orchestrations for the Twentieth Century Fox filmed version of South Pacific win hands down over their stage counterparts.
But that said, there is much to admire in this newly remastered issue of the original cast recording. Technically, despite a limited monaural acoustic, the sound quality is considerably better than for previous incarnations of this album – and apparently a set of 45 rpm discs from 1950 were used as the source rather than the LP masters which were never primarily that wonderful and down the decades have suffered various erroneous forms of enhancement – including a gear shift into phony stereo! However no acoustical limitation is going to detract from the engaging warmth of Mary Martin's superlative vocals. Barrel-voiced Enzio Pinza fares less well with his vintage microphone, but Juanita Hall, as the irrepressible Bloody Mary, and sweet toned William Tabbert as Lieutenant Cable sound just fine. And, of course, all the songs are marvelous, and this original recording is nothing less than living history, a supreme moment of musical theatre captured for all time.
Owners of previous releases of this album might not be tempted to upgrade purely for reasons of sound quality, but must surely be enticed by the additional eight tracks of differing versions of various songs. Here, among others, we are treated to Enzio Pinza having a bash at Bali Ha'i, Mary Martin's understudy Sandra Deel singing A Cock-eyed Optimist, plus Pinza's understudy Dickenson Eastham crooning Some Enchanted Evening and This Nearly Was Mine, whilst Mary Martin reveals His Girl Back Home, the erstwhile My Girl Back Home, a song for Lieutenant Cable cut from the Broadway production (but reinstated for the filmed version).
If there is a bone to be picked – well, its more of a skeleton to be rattled – it is that nowhere on this album is the name of arranger and orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett mentioned. It is not as if his contribution to South Pacific – and indeed to the reputation of Richard Rodgers in general – is not in every way considerable. This omission of Bennett's credit is quite a distraction for an album which is in every other way to be applauded.