Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Musical Warfare

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific isn’t just a classic like a fabulous forties dress, taken out of the attic, dusted off and matched with a pair of red pumps for a night out. September 14-19, the Fox Cities P.A.C. will present a historical piece of art, refurbished with care and refinished to its original Broadway luster to capture drama and emotion of World War II Era America.

But as Ensign Nellie Forbush flaunts her pixie pin curls and forties swimsuit, anchor your experience with the thought that back in 1949 South Pacific touched hearts still freshly wounded from World War II. Just four years after V-J Day, Broadway theatergoers took their seats to experience scenes of sailors in the South Pacific that surely must have brought back recent memories of news stories and letters home, and for veterans, war.

But South Pacific is far from the only musical inspired to face war with songs and choreography. As you think back to your favorite shows, how many titles are set during mankind’s darkest hours? From obvious titles like Miss Saigon, Hair and Les Miserables to the less obvious social warfare in shows like RENT and West Side Story, the list of wartime musicals goes on and on.

It’s almost easy to forget that a musical like The Sound of Music (spoiler alert to the three people in the world who haven’t seen Julie Andrews as Fraline Maria) ends with the Von Trapp family fleeing the Nazis over the Swiss Alps. Weren’t they just singing songs about whiskers on kittens, turning 17 and a little alpine flower called Edelweiss?

Even now, Green Day’s American Idiot is drawing crowds on Broadway to a show that deals with a war still being fought by American soldiers. But why does war play a central role in so many musicals?

Perhaps it’s because war serves as a catalyst of change and introduces elements of the extreme that contrast themes of right and wrong, love and hate, triumph and defeat. Perhaps its because war forces people into action and into situations that are unusual and surreal. Perhaps its because people need the arts to understand the human experience, and musicals allow us, as artists and audiences, to approach something with which we struggle to define and accept.

Whatever the reason for wartime musicals, have no fear, Rodgers and Hammerstein mastered the balance between reality and make believe. South Pacific will take you on an amazing adventure, back in time, across an ocean to a world in which an active combat marine falls in love amidst the tune of “Happy Talk.”

Did I leave any titles out that deserve a mention? What’s your favorite wartime musical, and what makes work for you?

Share your thoughts and reactions to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific here on the Fox Cities P.A.C. Blog!

Check out this great read highlighting why South Pacific is still engaging audiences today!

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