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Carnett: Falling for 'South Pacific'

July 22, 2013|By Jim Carnett

Twenty summers ago Orange Coast College reopened its remodeled Robert B. Moore Theatre with a rousing production of the beloved Broadway musical "South Pacific."

The campus theater originally opened in 1955.

The iconic 1949 Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein musical provided Americans with a coming-out-of-World War II treatise on racism.

OCC's production ran July 16 to 25, 1993, for eight performances. I watched every performance from the stage as a member of the cast. I'm totally unmusical, and director Alex Golson wisely cast me in a non-singing role.

My supporting character necessitated my presence in four or five scenes. The remaining 15 scenes or so I could watch — beginning with the overture's majestic swelling of the rich "South Pacific" theme — from the wings of the theater.

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I relished every scene and every number, including "There is Nothin' Like a Dame," "Bali Hai," "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa my Hair" and "Younger than Springtime."

I first fell for "South Pacific" at the age of 10.

Based on James Michener's 1946 novel, "Tales of the South Pacific" (which I read in college), the musical's libretto makes a poignant case for tolerance. The show renders a pair of love stories that take place in a war-torn island paradise.

Nurse Nellie Forbush of Little Rock, Ark., struggles to accept island planter Emile de Becque's "half-caste" children from an earlier marriage. In a parallel story, Lt. Joe Cable falls in love with Liat, the lovely Tonkinese daughter of an eccentric island souvenir dealer, Bloody Mary.

I was introduced to "South Pacific" in 1955 when my father bought the original cast recording on 78-rpm vinyl. The production starred opera virtuoso Ezio Pinza and stage and screen star Mary Martin. I soon had every note and lyric memorized.

In 1958 I went to the Lido Theatre to view a motion picture version of the show, starring Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor. At 13, I fell for the island girl, Liat, played in the film by the beautiful France Nuyen.

OCC initially opened the Robert B. Moore Theatre with the show in 1956. I saw my first stage production of "South Pacific" when the college reprised the show in 1968. In 1993, OCC reopened its theatre, following an extensive renovation, with a third production of the musical. I portrayed base commander Capt. George Brackett.

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