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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Tout Hollywood turned out to welcome South Pacific1>, including Mitzi Gaynor who played Nellie in the movie. Bartlett Sher's first class Broadway revival did not disappoint. The music by Richard Rodgers and the lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II still leave you wondering why they can't write musicals like that anymore.
When Rod Gilfry as planter Emile de Becque looses a full-throated "Some Enchanted Evening" in Scene 1, there were gasps and unstinted cheers. As Ensign Nellie Forbush, newly hatched from Little Rock, Arkansas, Carmen Cusack is a marvel of pacing with a special lyric twist in her voice.
James Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tales of the South Pacific that were the source for this magnificence, is sadly as timely today as it was then. War and racial prejudice are still with us, even though the musical has a happy feel-good ending.
Michener was based in the South Pacific during World War II when he began his stories and the musical appeared in 1949. It made Ezio Pinza, known to opera lovers, a household word. When Mary Martin literally washed that man right out of her hair eight times a week, she started a craze for short hair.
The stage book, in which original director Joshua Logan had a hand, brings to life such characters as Bloody Mary (a perennially snarling Keala Settle), Lt. Joseph Cable (Anderson Davis showing the bleakness of his recent combat experience) and Luther Billis (Matthew Saldivar), the rebel NCO who plays all the angles with a galvanizing flair.
Sher astutely shows the dark side of these figures as well as depicting the beauty of the tropics. In his staging one of the children swoops on stage to open the play with the freedom of a tropical bird, an image which remains.
The sets, designed by Michael Yeargen, preserve the lightness of the tropics by an airy openness, interspersed with a map of the area which serves as a backdrop for the office. There have been many productions of South Pacific over the years but this is billed as the first Broadway revival and it's a money show, with no expense spared.
This production shows the enduring power of the words and music of Rodgers & Hammerstein. Though the first Act runs a little long, there's nothing else to fault in Logan's adaptation of Michener's Prize-winning work. And certainly nothing to fault in Bartlet Sher's s production which is finally ending on August 22nd after 1000 performances-— the longest running show ever at New York's Lincoln Center. To read Elyse Sommer's review (which includes a song list) when it opened in 2008, go here