This Day In History: April 7

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On April 7, 1949, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific opens at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway in New York City. The romantic musical about World War II, which touches on controversial racial themes, goes on to run for almost five years, becoming one of the most popular musicals of the 1950s. The show won 10 Tony Awards, and six decades later, its Lincoln Center revival would earn another seven, making it the most Tony Award-winning show in New York theater history.

Based on James A. Michener’s 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories Tales of the South Pacific, the musical’s plot centers around a group of U.S. soldiers, sailors and nurses stationed on a tropical Polynesian island during World War II—in particular, a young American nurse falling in love with a mysterious ex-pat French planter. Given the location, a key theme of the production focuses on racial tolerance, with several characters facing the realities of interracial relationships at a time when segregation based on skin color was still the law at home in America.

The original South Pacific cast included lead actors Mary Martin as Ensign Nellie Forbush and Ezio Pinza as Emile De Becque. Famous songs from the musical include “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.” The stage show won countless awards, including Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Musical Score, Best Director, Best Libretto and all four musical acting categories. It also earned the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

South Pacific ran for 1,925 performances on Broadway and ended its run on January 16, 1954. The show had new incarnations, including the hit 1958 movie version, filmed in Hawaii. A made-for-TV movie followed in 2001, and South Pacific returned to Broadway in a 2008 revival.