American musical theatre has served as a composite of historical and cultural memory through its history but has also been an instrument of supporting changing American military policy and culture. The most notable example of this is Rodgers and Hammerstein's critically acclaimed musical South Pacific. Set during the Second World War II, the musical was celebrated by the American public for upholding Greatest Generation nostalgia and its progressive views on racial tolerance. Its depiction of the war was acclaimed by veterans and service members alike, prompting the shows heavy usage by the military to assist in the cultural changes that came with military desegregation. The show's wide-sweeping military appeal generated a nuanced relationship between the production company and the Armed Services that extended beyond servicemen attending the show. Utilizing the archival collections of Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Joshua Logan, this project highlights how the show became an integral part of Armed Services entertainment through a number of licensed productions to the United Service Organizations, military bases, and veterans hospitals both domestically and internationally. As the military was desegregating the service, the show's anti-racist sentiment, cloaked in the veil of wartime nostalgia, was concurrent with the direction of military policy and culture, making it good entertainment for service members. Military usage of South Pacific was a way to ease the blow of desegregation on the military by means of entertainment, through peppering the thematic ideas about the importance of racial tolerance into a piece of unsuspecting, morale-building, military-supporting theatre.
Sottile, Leana M.
"Desegregation Through Entertainment: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific as an Instrument of Military Policy,"
The Macksey Journal: Vol. 1
, Article 74.
Available at: https://www.mackseyjournal.org/publications/vol1/iss1/74
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