South Pacific – More than music and laughs

Photo: Quebec Art Company

In a ligher moment, Luther Billis (Larry Hodgson) finds himself in trouble with Navy officers and fellow Seabees in this week's QAC presentation of "South Pacific".

A warm breeze will be blowing through Quebec City this week, as the Quebec Art Company brings a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical to the stage. “South Pacific”, set on a tropical island during World War II, weaves together love stories and comic episodes against a background of unforgettable music and songs. This work is, however, far from being a simple musical comedy as it delves deeply into social issues of racism and prejudice.

Indeed, one could argue that the play itself was a vehicle for sending a strong message of tolerance to a country deeply divided by race. Although the action takes place during the war in a far-off land, the main issue was not, of course, one of integrating US military into local island culture, but rather addressing the culture of post-war America where segregation and discrimination against blacks and other minorities were still very much the status quo. Is this work then just a historically interesting glimpse into the recent past or does it have a message for us today? Certainly that has been a top question for many theatrical companies as a major revival of the play takes place across North America.

As a result, recent productions have been adapted to be more relevant to modern audiences. For example, references to interracial marriages are now to “coloured” rather than to “Polynesian” people, as this latter term is not nearly as provocative today as it was back then. Indeed, people hearing the original text today might wonder what the fuss is all about. Thus, such modifications have helped the play keep its original and central message of tolerance – a topic that is as pertinent today as it has ever been, with immigration and prejudice against other races and cultures important issues in Quebec and Canada. Likewise, with our troops currently overseas, it is a timely reminder of the challenges that they face.

Other issues of equal importance (attitudes towards women, for example) are perhaps less well addressed here, but the play’s treatment of such subjects reminds us of the progress that we have made in these areas over the past 60 years. The play opens this Thursday and information can be found in the Community Calendar and at the QAC website