Director: Bartlett Sher
Music: Richard Rodgers
Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein
Reviewer: Rosie Revell
The Public Reviews Rating:
First staged in 1949 South Pacific is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most enduring and popular works. Based upon the novel of short stories by James A Michenor, Tales of the South Pacific the musical brings together the novel’s story strands exploring World War II, love, and deep-seated racial intolerance.
Set on a South Pacific island during World War II South Pacific centres around the lives of navy personnel based on the island. Ensign Nellie Forbush (Rebecca Thornhill), an American nurse stationed at the U.S. Naval base on the island falls in love with French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Matthew Cammelle). Lieutenant Joseph Cable ((James Austen Murray) romances a young Vietnamese girl Liat (Elizabeth Chong) but refuses to marry her knowing their marriage would never be tolerated back home. Heavily dramatic in tone but the setting of the island allow us to be swept away with sweeping scenery and beautiful songs.
These romances allow the musical to explore racial prejudice in all its ugliness in a simple but very effective way. Nellie, a self confessed “hick” from Little Rock Arkansas (racially segregated until 1957) finds herself torn when she discovers Emile has two mixed race children from a relationship with a local woman. Thornhill never ceases to be likeable and believable in the role. Her singing is outstanding and she delivers a couple of standout moments, I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair and Honey Bun. Her racial intolerance may be misguided but you never stop rooting for her such is the charm of Thornhill’s performance. Emile’s (Cammelle) character is two dimensional and hard to like but his singing is sublime and lifts the performance to another level.
Lt. Cable romances the island’s wheeler dealer Bloody Mary’s (Jodie Kimura) daughter Liat but despite falling madly in love he can never contemplate marrying her. Murray’s rendition of You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught sums this up beautifully. His future is carefully mapped out; a partnership in the family firm and marriage to his girl back home. If he arrives home with a Tonkinese wife what kind of reaction will he get?
My only real criticism lies with the relationships portrayed here. There was a real lack of chemistry between the characters. Their love affairs seem rushed and we are given little insight as to why they fall in love in the first place. Distastefully, Bloody Mary has effectively pimped out Liat in the hope the American can provide her with a better life. When he refuses Mary offers her to the next man. Chong is given very little to do other than stand on the stage and look wistful.
Despite this this production is impressively set with good orchestration. There is a very strong supporting cast, Jodi Kimura’s Bloody Mary is chilling and amusing all at one as the feisty Vietnamese vendor selling her wares to the sailors. Her rendition of Bali Ha’i and Happy Talk are stunning. Alex Ferns’ Luther Billis is a fantastic supporting character, a sea dog with a crush on Nellie a mile wide. Ferns raised many a smile as he channelled Bilko onto the stage but has saddled himself with a bizarre shouty accent that at times was hard to understand taking away from his excellent performance.
The two stand out numbers are the rousing renditions of There is Nothin’ Like A Dame and I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta my Hair allow the men and women equal opportunities to shine.
South Pacific is a lovely show to look at and enjoyable, occasionally clunky, but redeemed by its impressive music and singing.
South Pacific runs until 4th August 2012