South Pacific at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
Despite ongoing redevelopment that has left behind the murky steel town image of old, the South Yorkshire city of Sheffield is as far removed from a South Pacific exotic island as you're likely to get. The weather outside the Crucible consists of a freezing, dense fog that is only likely to subside with the forecasted rain. So there we were, an audience wanting to escape to Bali Hai for two and a half hours of cock eyed optimism.
Geraldine Pilgrim's designs for this Rodgers & Hammerstein revival are pleasantly warming to look at, with a hefty amount of fake rockery hanging above the sand and sea stage and sliding jetties. Pilgrim's work combines with Chahine Yavroyan's mood affecting lighting to leave one in no doubt as to the tropical location.
As the musical progressed, I got steadily annoyed at the amount of prop shifting that the performers were undertaking - to the point were I was about to offer my services if another oil barrel needed to be carted across stage. This does, of course, keep the play chugging along non-stop and I can see the point - its all supposed to add to Peter Darling's choreography. Unfortunately, it's just too noticeable that people are dancing around with ammo boxes because a scene change is coming up.
Another rather distracting element is the decision to position the band on stage. Now I realise that musicians are integral to the workings of a musical but seeing them in my eye corner while I'm trying to indulge in an evening of escapism is infuriating. Happily, Dai Watts musical direction is highly satisfactory and the eight piece band is of just the right size for the material.
Anyway, enough negative criticism - you'll be thinking the evening failed to entertain. Despite my aforementioned gripes, this Deborah Paige directed production is an extremely enjoyable production. Both Janie Dee as Nellie Forbush and Mark Adams as Emile de Becque possess wonderful voices and had the audience gorping with admiration. Nicola Blackman as Bloody Mary was a bundle of joy to watch and packed a punch during her numbers. As did the widely grinning Cornell John, who offered an infectiously cheerful portrayal of the Arthur Daley of the South Pacific, Luther Billis.
Rodgers and Hammerstein's songs are unforgettable, and it's difficult not to start singing along with the cast. Adams' 'Some Enchanted Evening' sent most of us weak at the knees and Dee's 'I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair' was terrific fun, complete with the requisite on stage shower routine. And then there's the hardy perennial 'There Is Nothing Like A Dame', which allows Darling's choreography to shine and the troupe of military types to let rip.
A show that warms the spirits if not necessarily the surrounding city air - which, as I headed for the car, was full of whistling renditions of the show-stopping tunes we'd all just seen performed with aplomb.
At the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield until 23 January.