"I killed a man in France"

The other day I blogged a bit about the differences between Wicked, the book, and Wicked, the musical, about how the play is somewhat…lighter than the book. Not that I’ve seen a whole lot of musicals based on books, especially complex and subtle books, but certainly that sort of dumbing-down isn’t unique to Wicked. My favorite example is from South Pacific. Yes, the play is one of the great classics of music theatre (and, in touch as I am with my inner Broadway-Loving Gay Man I still sometimes get songs from it lodged in my head1). But it lacks a certain gritty je ne sais quoi that pervaded James Michener’s book.

In both book and play, Emile de Becque fled France in his youth, having killed the town bully. From he play2:

EMILE. He could do anything… take anything. I did not like that, I was young. I stood up in the public square and made a speech. I called upon everyone to stand with me against this man.

NELLIE. What did they do?

EMILE. They walked away.


EMILE. Because they saw him standing behind me. I turned and he said to me “I am going to kill you now.” We fought. I was never so strong. I knocked him to the ground. And when he fell his head struck a stone and… [Shrug.]

And here’s the book:

“How did you kill him?” Nellie asked, surprised at her courage.

“With a knife,” Emile said, showing some satisfaction, even at that distance.

And I won’t even start with Lieutenant/Commander (book and play, respectively) Harbison’s attempted rape of Nellie…


1. Damn, “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair” is there now… Couldn’t it at least be “Bali Hai” or “Younger than Springtime?”

2. Quoted from the libretto that was moldering in a box in my attic, A relic of my high school play one year. I played Henry, Emile de Becaue’s Polynesian servant. I had six lines, in French, a language I did not speak. Since then my theatrical experience has been restricted to playing various woodwinds in orchestras.


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