Critical Context

South Pacific played almost as long on Broadway as Oklahoma! (1943), one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s earlier plays. South Pacific won the Drama Critics Circle Award for best musical play of 1948-1949 and nine Tony Awards. Within three years of its opening in New York, the play was produced in London, Australia, and Sweden. A successful motion-picture version was released in 1958.

In 1942, Rodgers and Hammerstein began a successful collaboration that ended only with Hammerstein’s death in 1960. Together they wrote the hit musicals The King and I (pr. 1951), Flower Drum Song (pr. 1958), and The Sound of Music (pr. 1959). Beginning in 1949, Rodgers and Hammerstein acted as theatrical producers for their own works as well as for the works of others. They also formed Williamson Music, a music publishing firm. The collaborators combined bright tunes with more sophisticated stories than had been previously employed in musical comedy. This blend was widely imitated, however, following their successes. From the beginning of his career, Hammerstein followed the tradition of the light operas of Sir W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, wherein the words were written first and the music was composed to reflect the character and the situation.

Joshua Logan, the other creator of the play, also had a distinguished theatrical career both before and after South Pacific. He directed Annie Get Your Gun (pr. 1946) and cowrote and directed Mister Roberts (pr. 1948), both highly successful Broadway plays. He directed many other popular plays, as well as several major motion pictures: Bus Stop (1956), Sayonara (1957), Fanny (1961), Camelot (1967), and Paint Your Wagon (1969). Logan directed South Pacific again in 1958, when the play was adapted as a motion picture.