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By Ann Marshall

I had my own enchanted moment a couple of weeks ago, during a community performance of favorites from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music. At the first strains of “Some Enchanted Evening,” I sneaked my hand into Terry’s and fell in love all over again.

I’ve been humming that and other tunes throughout the days since – like the haunting “Bali H’ai” and the zany “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” — corny as what, Kansas in August? Yes! The songs are from the hit stage play and movie, South Pacific, a tale of two wartime romances.

For me, the music evokes memories of enchanted evenings, graceful palms, and sand between my toes from years we’ve spent on beaches in Hawaii, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands. I would return to any of those places in a heartbeat.

 

Two Love Stories, Two Responses

South Pacific is more complicated than an enchanted evening on a balmy south sea beach, however. It’s the story of two couples coming to grips with ingrained prejudices – cross-cultural and racial – that threaten to derail their love. An American lieutenant is so in love with a Polynesian woman he wants to stay on Bail H’ai after the war is over. By contrast, the young nurse from Arkansas is in love with a Frenchman – until she finds out he has children by a Polynesian mother. Nurse Nellie drops her Frenchman like a burnt croissant. Enchanted evening derailed.

The lieutenant lashes out at the cultural barriers to the lovers, as he complains in song that prejudice is “taught” from a very young age:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed into your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught

Happily Ever After – or Heartbreak?

From our years in the South Pacific, Terry and I also know something about cross-cultural and interracial romances. We knew Peace Corps Volunteers and other expats who overcame such barriers to love. Like any other romance, some married and thrived. Some didn’t.

Cross-cultural romance was a controversial idea in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Even today, I look around and ask: Who taught this new generation to be afraid, and to hate? To shoot first and ask questions later? To exclude people of color? To engage in name-calling and bullying? To hunker down in racist groups? To fear and hate people who don’t look like us or talk like us.

I admit, parts of South Pacific are quaintly dated, but it’s a powerful story about an issue that’s as relevant today as it was more than half a century ago — and a film worth seeing, both for the music and the message. Bali Ha’i calls, folks. Take a few minutes to listen to some of the music.

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