South Pacific

Original Broadway Production (1949)

Trivia & History

The production moved from Broadway's Majestic Theatre to the Opera House in Boston, playing there from May 18, 1953, to June 27, 1953. When it returned to New York on June 29, 1953, its new home was Broadway Theatre. The move out of the Majestic allowed the new Rodgers and Hammerstein show, Me and Juliet, to play that theatre.

This was not the first time that the production had temporarily suspended performances. In 1950, it closed down for Holy Week, after playing a special Sunday evening performance on Sunday evening, April 2. Performances resumed the following Tuesday (April 11).

In January 1951, it was announced that in early June, Mary Martin would be replaced as Nellie Forbush by Martha Wright, and that on the same date, Ray Middleton (who had replaced Ezio Pinza as Emile de Becque) would be replaced by the well-known movie actor George Sanders, who had a fine singing voice.

On February 20, 1951, it was reported in the New York Times that Sanders was "suffering from a herniated disk" and that he had "been advised by his physician to avoid unncessary exertion. ... The screen actor may have to undergo surgery soon." It was further reported that he had been released from his contract. Eventually Sanders would admit that extreme nervousness about his ability to fulfill the role's demands led him to request to be released from his commitment. 

By the end of April, it was announced that Rodgers, Hammerstein and Logan wished to hire Roger Rico, a leading bass at the Paris Opera, to replace Middleton, but that he might not be available in time as he had commitments to several performances in Paris. By May 20, it was official that Rico would take over and that Middleton would extend his stay in the role till Rico was ready to join the cast, which was expected to be in late June.

Middleton had to extend his stay still longer since Rico, who (it was reported) did not speak a word of English when he arrived for rehearsals, needed more preparation time. On July 7, Rico assumed the role. He was well received by the critics who came to review the show again with the new leads, and all seemed well for around six months.

Then on Saturday, January 12, 1952, Rico was replaced by his understudy, George Britton. Rico played the matinee, and Britton played the evening performance. Between the matinee and the evening, a letter was sent to William Morris, Jr., who was Rico's agent, to inform him that Rico would be replaced by his understudy starting with that evening's performance. According to Richard Rodgers, this step was taken because there had been many complaints that Rico, an opera singer whose native language was French, was unintelligible. Repeated suggestions that he "take lessons for the improvement of his enunciation" were not heeded. Rico was under contract until October 2, 1952, and the letter to Morris stated that his salary would be paid in full.

When the production opened. "Twin Soliloquies" was not included in the playbill's list of musical numbers, but it was added to the list later in the run.

Approximately a year into the run, a short piece of additional material was added to the show. This was the passage that Emile de Becque sings (after Cable has finished singing "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught"), beginning with the words "I was cheated before / And I'm cheated again." Evidently it was felt that more singing would improve the transiton between Cable's dramatic song and Emile's "This Nearly Was Mine."

This was added either at the time Ezio Pinza was replaced as Emile de Becque by Ray Middleton or shortly thereafter.

According to a long New York Times article on the difficulties and rewards of being an understudy or standby, Ezio Pinza's standby, Dickinson Eastham, went on in Pinza's role of Emile de Becque more than 50 times during the first six months of the Broadway run. He was rewarded by being cast in the role in the national tour. For the tour, he was billed as Richard Eastham, which would remain his professional name thereafter.

The article appeared in the Times on November 11, 1962, long after that particular case.

During Pinza's run in the show, several letters to the Times's "Drama Mailbag" mentioned seeing Pinza's understudy. A letter that appeared in the paper on March 5, 1950, was especially indignant on the subject of Pinza's absences. This letter appeared after it had been announced that Ray Middleton would succed Pinza on June 1. James Dales, the author of the letter, wrote, "I am of the opinion that Ezio Pinza has lost interest in appearing in 'South Pacific,' and I base this on the fact that I've been to see it three times with the hope of seeing him, and his understudy has always gone on." Dales went on to suggest that the producers should not wait until June 1 but should make the replacement sooner.

In October 1952, Martha Wright, the replacement Nellie Forbush, left the Broadway production for three weeks to join the national tour when it was playing in her home city of Seattle, then she rejoined the Broadway production. Cloris Leachman, who was then the understudy for the role, replaced her during that time.

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