Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Creative Currents Under a Great War ... South Pacific to Victory At Sea

I am so enthralled, in love really, with the Broadway revival of South Pacific (it's brilliantly inspired score remains my favorite), that I've seen it twice in NY and will again if I'm back there before it closes. And I've been moved to finally get a library copy of the book upon which the show is based, James A. Michener's novel Tales of the South Pacific. What a rich and rewarding work, the prose and realistic detail close in purity to Hemingway. I am waiting to reach the two or three stories used by Oscar Hammerstein II and Josh Logan in their Pulitzer prize winning adaptation of the book. Already, however, Nellie Forbush has entered (to me, I forever see Mary Martin), but in a story about an affair she has with an officer -- ill fated (she finally forces the issue, and yes, he is married) -- before she meets up with the Frenchman. What a great writer was Michener. I wonder how much courage it took him to mercilessly blast PT boats as being hopelessly useless? That is a new notion to me. He also narrates safe boring pockets of military life that can drive a soldier to beg for a transfer into real action. To me, this gives his account that much more depth and believability.

Victory at Sea is the other compelling source through which I have on many occasions connected with a war that commenced when I was in a crib hearing the sounds of the Big Dipper roller coaster across the street, the pacific ocean just to the west. This TV documentary, interestingly, it comes to mind, as I write this, also bears the music of Richard Rodgers. And what a tour-de-force that is. It's the blunt black and white footage, the terse narrator's voice, and the simple short-sentence prose combined with music to die for that makes Victory such an astounding achievement, in my opinion trumping all other TV Documentaries that have since come our way.

Thank you, James Michener. And Thank you, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Logan.

Next stop: I am going to read John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday. Drawn to a fresh challenge, Rodgers and Hammerstein, striking a more daring though all-too-tempered frame, based their 1955 flop Pipe Dream on the book's characters and themes. Critics complained of a Sunday school approach to hinting at rather than depicting a house of ill repute, and of the central character's participation in it insufficiently defined. So I want to see how this story element is handled in the novel. The show contains a marvelous score, and the characters at least seem to convey Steinbeck's sympathetic and humorous view of that particular world as reflected in another of his remarkable works which I have read, Tortilla Flat.

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