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Seventy-two years ago today, "South Pacific" made its Broadway debut. To say the musical was a smashing success is an understatement. Its tunes are still familiar to many of us today. 

The audience at the Majestic Theater for the April 7, 1949, Broadway premiere of "South Pacific" included the elite of New York City's art world. As was befitting the social event of the season, the musical's financial backers rented the roof of the St. Regis Hotel for an after-party. And in a further display of faith that Rodgers and Hammerstein had produced another hit, some 200 copies of the New York Times' early edition were ordered, so that party guests could read the review. This confidence proved to be well-placed: Famed theater critic Brooks Atkinson, who sat in his customary front-row seat that night, wrote glowingly of the show.

The real critics -- those in the audience -- had already voted with their feet, or rather, with their hands: The opening night performance took a long time to complete because the crowd kept stopping the show with extended applause after each of the songs.

And why not? Those songs are brilliant in their composition, rendered beautifully by a cast that included Mary Martin and opera star Ezio Pinza, and carried uplifting social messages, the chief one being that love can thrive even in wartime -- and is more powerful than racism.

Several of those numbers, including "Some Enchanted Evening," "Younger Than Springtime," and "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy," are popular torch songs to this day. And the tenor of modern American politics is a reminder that my own favorite "South Pacific" number – "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" -- is as relevant now as it was in 1949. 

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

This article originally ran on realclearpublicaffairs.com.

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