Music & Lyrics: Rodgers and Hammerstein
Director & reinventor!: Bartlett Sher
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
Milton Keynes Theatre is showing this week the acclaimed Lincoln Centre Theatre production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific(reinvented by its Director, Bartlett Sher) which has played to packed audiences at London’s Barbican Theatre, and begins its nationwide tour here in Milton Keynes, where extra matinees have been put on due to popular demand! Considered to be one of the finest musicals ever written, the score includes wonderful and well-known songs such as- Some Enchanted Evening, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, Younger than Springtime, Happy Talk and There is Nothin’ Like a Dame. This was the first Broadway production the Rodgers & Hammerstein Estate had allowed to be staged since the musical originally opened back in 1949. Set on a tropical island during World War II, this is the extremely romantic story of two couples, both threatened by the harsh realities of a war and by their very own prejudices. Its portrayal of Americans stationed in an unfamiliar culture in wartime remains as pertinent today as when it first played.
Samantha Womack was due to take the lead female role as Nellie Forbush, but this evening was replaced by Carly Anderson, who stepped into the breach and did a fantastic job. You would not have known she was an understudy! Along with this grand performance we had that of Loretta Ables Sayre in the role of Bloody Mary, for which she was Tony-nominated in New York and I can understand why; brilliant at humour and facial expressions but a lovely voice, especially in the very melodic and ambient Bali Ha’i. Welsh National Opera’s Jason Howard(from the original Broadway production) brought us the role of Emile de Becque, with a nicely understated French accent. He is acclaimed as one of the UK’s leading stars on the international operatic stage and what depth and resonance there was in his voice. At times he reminded me of the famous Howard Keel, even though the latter was definitely not an opera singer. I loved Jason Howard’s rendition of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’
Also starring in the role of Lt Joseph Cable was musical theatre star Daniel Koek (following his renowned performance as Tony in the recent UK hit production of West Side Story). Such charm and stage presence and what a voice! His interactions with the young Liat (delicately performed by Elizabeth Chong) were moving and believable and the duet ‘Younger Than Springtime’ was poignant and sensitively sung.. Alex Ferns played the role of Luther Billis to perfection with great comic timing and just the right amount of pizzazz! Tres drole!. Commander Harbison (Dominic Taylor) and Captain Brackett (Nigel Williams) were a good duo with a nice balance of the serious and the comedic. All American accents were pretty ok, although Cpt Harbison’s disappeared at times. The ensemble, ie the Seabees and the nurses, were all really good dancers and singers and worked exceptionally well together in the big numbers.
The set design was atmospheric, a very simple set of stratted blind-like drops to evoke tropical island habitats and then the backdrop to suggest the ocean and Pacific islands belong. The drops and props were moved very swiftly and efficiently between scenes, even the plane on stage! The overall effect was greatly enhanced by superb lighting effects which truly gave the feel of the islands and also of wartime. Very effective. The whole was sharply directed and the musical direction by Jae Alexander spot on. Lovely always to have an orchestra up front and the conductor, Peter McCarthy, was incredibly passionate and energetic.
This is a long show at 3hours but for the most part did not seem so, even if the long first half had several reprises in it. This was a thoroughly heart-warming evening’s entertainment not to be missed. You will be singing and tapping along as I was.