Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's fourth musical, South Pacific, was based on several stories in James A. Michener's book Tales of the South Pacific, specifically two that dealt with wartime romances complicated by racial issues. Lyricist and co-librettist Hammerstein had first taken on the issue of racial tolerance in Show Boat in 1927; here, he renewed the theme by exploring the relationship between an older French planter with two young half-Polynesian children and a young American nurse from Arkansas, and between an American lieutenant and a native girl. The cultural contrasts were supported by musical ones: The score veered between lush, operatic ballads ("Some Enchanted Evening," "This Nearly Was Mine") and earthy comedic numbers ("There Is Nothin' Like a Dame," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair"). Those contrasts in turn were embodied by the leads, retired Metropolitan Opera bass Ezio Pinza and Broadway musical comedy star Mary Martin, who managed to have an onstage romance without ever quite singing a duet (the closest thing to that being the appropriately named "Twin Soliloquies").
The story also allowed Rodgers & Hammerstein to portray the rough-edged, lusty character of U.S. servicemen, so well-documented in the recently concluded world war, and to present music with an exotic flavor ("Bali Ha'i"). The result was a massive hit. Opening on Broadway April 7, 1949, South Pacific ran 1,925 performances, longer than any musical before it except Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! The score was even more popular, if possible. At a time when many different record companies might put out their own covers of a popular song, "Some Enchanted Evening" was a Top Ten hit for no less than six artists, with Perry Como's version hitting number one. Como also had the most successful of five chart versions of "Bali Ha'i," reaching the top five, and Margaret Whiting beat out three chart competitors for the top version of "A Wonderful Guy." (Though not a chart hit, "Younger Than Springtime" has gone on to be a much-recorded standard.)
But it was the original Broadway cast album that was the real blockbuster. Released at a time when record formats were changing, it came out on 78s, EPs, and an early 12" LP, and became the longest running number one hit in history. A perennial seller, it remained in print in successive LP reissues, one in 1962 (Columbia OS-2040 in rechanneled stereo) and another in 1973 (Columbia S-32604). The first CD version was a straight transfer of the LP in 1988 (Columbia CK-32604).
On March 9, 1993, Sony Broadway released a remastered version (SK-53327) with three bonus tracks. Pinza had had one of those Top Ten versions of "Some Enchanted Evening" back in 1949, and that had led Columbia to have him record "Bali Ha'i," a song he did not sing in the show, as a follow-up. In 1951, Martin recorded a one-off single for Columbia of two songs written for but dropped from the show, "Loneliness of Evening" and "My Girl Back Home." These made welcome additions to the 1993 CD. Unfortunately, in returning to the original master tapes, the reissue team mistakenly used an alternate take of "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught," creating a collectable. On November 10, 1998, that error was corrected on a new CD reissue (Sony Classical/Columbia/Legacy SK-60722) that added another bonus track, a nine-minute suite of South Pacific music arranged by Robert Russell Bennett, who had written the original orchestrations for the show, performed by André Kostelanetz and the Philadelphia Orchestra "Pops" in 1951.