Bright and bubbly Ensign Nellie Forbush finds herself thrown into life as a military nurse on a beautiful island in the South Pacific. There she must tend to the wounded soldiers and keep herself and her friends entertained through the long days. She first meets local businessman Emille De Becque under awkward circumstances as she mocks men in general with her cronies and he overhears. Taken by her spirit and beauty, he begins to pursue her and they begin a tentative relationship.
Meanwhile, the island of Bali Ha'i beckons the bored soldiers and, encouraged by Bloody Mary (the islands resident know it all) they take a trip to meet more of the natives. The usually professional Lieutenant Cable meets and falls deeply in love with Liat, Bloody Mary's daughter. Although their relationship is doomed from the start, he cannot resist spending more time with her.
Nellie only realises her true feelings for Emille when he agrees to head a mission to uncharted territory that he knows better than the troops. As news reaches the camp that the mission has failed, Nellie fears the worst and cannot bear to lose her lover. She steels herself to begin a life as mother to Emille's two children, but he returns to join the family against the odds.
The show is a mixture of raucous fun and touching tragedy. We gain an insight into the troops life as they put on an alternative burlesque show to entertain themselves. But we also are reminded of the cost of combat as lives are lost and families torn apart.