The Lincoln Center Theater’s production of South Pacific has arrived at the New Theatre, Oxford for a four-week festive-season run. An award winning, widely hyped show such as this one has a lot to live up to. On the whole, it succeeds.
The performance bubbles with energy in all the right places. Choruses of sailors and nurses bound onto the stage with lively choreography, spirited singing, and a generous helping of humour. There are also plenty of tender moments to provide a change of pace. Samantha Womack gives a warm and engaging performance as Ensign Nellie Forbush, and Jason Howard is a powerful Emile De Becque. For me, however, the stand-out performances of the evening come from Loretta Ables Sayre as scheming Tonkinese entrepreneur Bloody Mary, and Alex Fearns as maverick Luther Billis.
But as aficionados will know, South Pacific isn’t all froth and romance. It’s also a show with a serious theme at its heart: inter-race relations and prejudice, set against the backdrop of World War Two. The darker aspects of the plot are handled with sensitivity, painting a moving picture of a time of upheaval and reassessment of values.
The technical aspects of the show are excellent – Michael Yeargan’s set is a sight (or to be more precise, a frequently changing series of sights) to behold; the costumes are colourful; and the lighting adeptly conjures up atmosphere. (Those who have endured the New Theatre’s patchy sound balance in previous shows will also be relieved to hear that isn’t a problem here.)
There are holes that one could pick: while Womack and Howard have fine voices individually, when singing together they don’t blend as perfectly as one might wish, and for a show which has race as such a central theme, some of the casting seems oddly blind to the nuances of ethnicity. But these are minor quibbles; overall, it’s a solid, slick, professional show.
South Pacific will have you tapping your feet in the theatre and humming the tunes as you leave – for old and young alike, it offers a great night out.