South Pacific

Marcelo Guzzo stars as Emile De Beque and Katie Reid is Nellie Forbush in “South Pacific,” stopping at ASU Gammage in Tempe.

Photo by Peter Coombs

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” tackles racial tolerance at the height of World War II.

The national tour of the 2008 Tony Award-winning revival, which stops in January at Arizona State University’s Gammage Auditorium, still carries the same message.

Katie Reid, who portrays lead character Nellie Forbush, said there is a contemporary feeling to the show, which uses the same sets and costumes from Broadway.

“The sets are beautiful and the lighting transports you right to the center of the action,” said Reid, calling from a tour stop in New Orleans. “But more than anything, this is a journey about these people’s lives and their internal struggles to really fit into this new world.”

On a South Pacific island during World War II, love blooms between military nurse Forbush and a secretive Frenchman, Emile De Beque, who’s being courted for a dangerous military mission.

But obstacles must be overcome when she discovers he’s fathered two island children.

Songs in the musical include “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” “Bali Ha’i,” “Some Enchanted Evening” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.”

“The lyrics and songs of this show really speak to all generations,” Reid said.

“South Pacific” premiered on Broadway in 1949 and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama the following year. The original production won 10 Tony Awards.

There also were two movies of the musical, including the 1958 Oscar-nominated film and a 2001 made-for-television feature with Glenn Close and Harry Connick Jr.

In 2008, the Lincoln Center revived the production and received seven Tonys, including Best Revival.

Reid said she watched the revival in New York and was very impressed with the show.

“It really captured the essence of that time on stage,” she said. “I never thought that later I would be here doing this show, but I’m glad I have this chance.”

For preparation, Reid said she watched plenty of footage from the 1940s and 1950s as well as read a lot of material about the time period.

She learned quite a bit about military nurses during World War II.

“These nurses were technically like officers and couldn’t date anyone in the unit,” said Reid. “They were incredibly brave women on an adventure.”

Since she took on the role of Forbush, Reid said she’s been having a great time with the production and all of the sets and touches of realism added to the show.

“Not too often in your career do you get the opportunity to take a shower on stage,” she said with a laugh.

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