NEW ULM -- The New Ulm Actors Community Theatre is debuting what its director calls "the greatest musical ever written" on Thursday.
With nightly performances through Saturday and a Sunday matinee, NUACT is presenting "South Pacific," the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration that won Tony and Pulitzer awards as well as spawned an Academy Award-winning film.
"The location, the story, the music," said Paul Warshauer, reciting its most enduring elements. "Combine them and you have magic."
For the penultimate show of its 2012-13 season -- "Inherit the Wind," a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes Trial, debuts in August -- Warshauer said NUACT has put together what may be the organization's largest-ever musical production.
To carry the award-winning score, Warshauer knew he needed a full, 20-member orchestra, as a smaller outfit just "wouldn't do the music justice." He also held auditions for about 30 roles in addition to a nine-person children's chorus. Add to that another dozen technical directors and the full cast numbers upward of 70 individuals.
Warshauer said none could remember a larger production in recent memory. Yet, the response from spectators and participants alike has been so eager that Warshauer said NUACT will likely replicate the formula in the future.
"We're going to do a musical every year from now on," he said.
The plot centers on an American nurse stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II. When she falls in love with a middle-aged French plantation owner, she struggles to accept his mixed-race children. A secondary romance, between a U.S. lieutenant and a young Tonkinese woman explores his fears of the social consequences should he marry his Asian sweetheart. The issue of racial prejudice is candidly explored throughout the musical, most controversially in the lieutenant's song, "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught".