The problem is, as I perceive it, is that the original and movie version determined to use great operatic voices to give the role more credence. Ezio Pinza, was in fact, a kind of marvel, his strong baritone/bass voice rumbling us into belief in the character, and in the movie version Rossano Brazzi (pretending to be the voice of the handsome Giorgio Tozzi) convinced us of the magical love that the character finds in encountering his would-be Arkansas “hick.”
But, ultimately, the soaring, swirling and falling musical operatic voices, which also included Paul Robeson, Placido Domingo, and other operatic singers are possibly not the best expressions of Rodgers’ musical compositions. The women performers, such as Barbra Streisand, Jane Olivor, and Jackie Evancho, really do the song more justice, and tear on the heart. Gay singer Michael Feinstein, in his cabaret style, does well by it—although, once more, like my criticism of David Bowie’s version of Moon of Alabama, I wish he had been able to change the “she” to “he” in order to more truly be honest to the somewhat “gay-laced” lyrics, all about meeting a stranger in a crowded bar and falling immediately in love. Hammerstein was probably one of the most straight-laced lyricists who ever composed for American musical theater, but he evidently admired his gay student, Stephen Sondheim, and, he became Rodgers’ lyricist after the death of the very gay lyricist-partner with Rodgers, Lorenz Hart.
South Pacific, as I have written in these volumes before, is heavily infused with a gay sensibility; it is, after all, a world where young, sexually desirous men were completely isolated from women in a place of utter sensuality. But I never before realized how deeply Hammerstein had embedded that world into the gay possibilities until I thought deeply about this very straight love song. It might almost be spoken of as a gay anthem to the old-time gay bars, where suddenly you meet someone and, hopefully/possibly, fall in love:
And that beautiful little girl in the photo above, one of De Becque's children, is our friend Candance Lee, who also performed as one of Yul Brynner's endless children in The King and I, and who later was an art gallerist.