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
explored the relationship between an older French planter with two young half-Polynesian children and a young American nurse, 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").
The story also allowed Rodgers & Hammerstein
to portray the rough-edged, lusty character of U.S. servicemen 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. Margaret Whiting
beat out three chart competitors for the top version of "A Wonderful Guy." 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.