Back in 1949, "South Pacific" was so bold that some theaters were afraid to stage it. It was only because the show's creators, Rodgers and Hammerstein, had the clout to produce their own shows that it made it to Broadway.
Sixty-five years later, it still works.
"I think the show, as a piece of musical drama, is very meaningful," said William Waldrop. "It's two love stories set against a war. It helps us understand that period. Plus, there's all that beautiful music."
Waldrop is the music director for the upcoming Asolo Repertory Theatre production of "South Pacific" which opens Friday and runs through Christmas.
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Rodgers and Hammerstein based the show on James Michener's collection of short stories "Tales of the South Pacific." Both the book and the musical won Pulitzer prizes.
The musical's underlying sentiment about the evil of racism was ahead of its time -- so much so, Waldrop said, that Rodgers and Hammerstein "toned down" that message in the original production.
A revival at Broadway's Lincoln Center in 2008 restored a lot of the material Rodgers and Hammerstein had deemed too strong for their era. It also replaced a song, "My Girl Back Home," that had been cut from the original stage show but was included in the movie version.
The Asolo Rep production uses the script from the Lincoln Center version, including that song.
This staging features Loretta Ables Sayre as Bloody Mary. She played that same role in the Lincoln Center production and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
Despite the commonalities, "this is
a very different production than the Lincoln Center," Waldrop said.
The Asolo Rep production, uses a much smaller cast -- 19 people as opposed to 35 in the Lincoln Center staging -- and a smaller orchestra of only eight pieces. And it's in the Mertz Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, which only seats about 500 people.
All that, Waldrop said, lets the audience connect more directly with the show's characters.
It's directed by Rob Ruggerio, who directed last year's production of "Show Boat" at Asolo Rep.
"This is the third production of "South Pacific" that Rob Ruggerio has directed in the past year and a half," Waldrop said.
"He said this the way he has always envisioned doing this show. Smaller cast, smaller orchestra, more intimate theater."
Details: Through Nov. 11-Dec. 28 at the Mertz Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26-$77. Information: 941-351-8000, asolorep.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.