Sunday, April 13, 2008

South Pacific

  Do EVERYTHING in your power to get to this show. Mortgage your home if you have to! It is perfection in every way, an enchanted evening if ever there was one. And this is a musical I’ve never been particularly fond of, at least not since we did it freshman year in high school when I was on the staging committee -- lots of blue paint on my clothes! -- and thought we had put together a Broadway quality show. I do have to admit now, though, this one is better.

Kelli O’Hara is as engaging as ever. I first noticed her in the disappointing production of Sweet Smell of Success, and I’ve seen her in all her Broadway roles since then. She really stands out, and not just because she’s pretty. She has a quality that’s real; she doesn’t seem like an actress in a musical -- she just is whomever she is playing. It’s such a joy now to watch her dance around that stage singing “I’m Gonna to Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.” She’s sassy and fun, but also completely believable in all those wonderful romantic scenes.

Opera singer Paulo Szot, making his Broadway debut as Emile de Becque, is breathtaking when he sings “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine” But he can also be convincingly playful, such as when he imitates Nellie singing “Wash That Man.”

I loved Danny Burstein as Luther Billis. The comic relief characters often get tiresome to me, but he never did. He was funny, but never to the point of being obnoxious. I also appreciated Matthew Morrison as Lt. Joe Cable. He hadn’t clicked with me when I saw him in The Light in the Piazza, probably because I had read the novella and pictured Fabrizio so differently. Here he seems just right.

Michael Yeargan’s sets and Donald Holder’s lighting give the feel of wide open and bright spaces in the Pacific islands, and I love the retractable stage that give full views of the magnificent 30-piece orchestra, under the direction of Ted Sperling.

The show is three hours long, but I was so mesmerized I didn’t realize. I could have sat through three more hours. I hated it to be over.

It’s hard to believe this is the first time South Pacific has been revived on Broadway since it premiered in 1949. (That production went on to enjoy a five-year Broadway run, winning nine Tonys, including Best Musical, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.) With a less gifted cast (of 40!) and artistic team, under the direction of Bartlett Sher, any revival now could seem dated, but here it’s as alive as it must have been originally.

I loved the current productions of Sunday in the Park and Gypsy, but South Pacific gets my vote for best revival of a musical. I wish I could see it again and again.

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