Some may see South Pacific as a wonderfully sunny escapist musical brimming with life and vitality which of course it is. But it is also a show about love and hate; loyalty and betrayal; happiness and sadness; war and the hope of peace; about people who come alive at the time of conflict and those who will see their lives destroyed.
How can all these themes be packed into one stage show and still have room for song and dance? Well Rodgers and Hammerstein managed it with South Pacific, a classic musical first performed in 1949 and still with some relevance for the twenty first century.
The production berthed at the Liverpool Empire for two weeks comes garlanded with praise from its Broadway and London runs. It swept the prestigious Tony Awards in New York and has been hailed as a ‘breathtaking reinvention’.
Well it certainly looks good with its slatted blinds revealing sand and sea, wonderful blue skies and occasionally the magnificent but foreboding island of Bali Ha’i. The lighting is terrific providing some lowering skies and great stage pictures of the cast in silhouette.
High praise must be given to the orchestra under the confident baton of Jae Alexander for the glorious sweeping music and Christopher Gattelli has created some great choreography to give the show some zing.
However when it comes to the dialogue, on most occasions it drags and the show becomes leaden and uninvolving. The exception is the Radio Shack scene where passion and drama really mean something. The idea to overlap scenes doesn’t always work as it fails to bring some needed pace to the show but rather causes distraction as the cast are seen queuing to leave the stage from the previous scene.
Samantha Womack is an engaging and lively Nellie Forbush and Matthew Cammelle sings with such power and passion (‘This Nearly was Mine’ was a highlight) but their love story is muted. Daniel Koek gives a strong performance as Cable and Loretta Ables Sayre brings to the fore the darker side of Bloody Mary. Alex Ferns injects Billis with plenty of ebullience and Nigel Williams literally gives a commanding performance.
Quite rightly there is a roar of approval for ‘There is Nothin’ Like a Dame’ from the mighty male ensemble. At this point the show bursts alive but it does not last. Unfortunately ‘I’m Gonna Wash that Man’ is a damp squib, rather tentatively performed, presumably due to Health and Safety Regulations? There was little water or soap followed by some awkward mopping of the stage verging on embarrassment.
Despite reservations it IS an enjoyable show mainly down to the songs and the music and a couple of performances but it is hardly the ‘breathtaking reinvention’ promised. Unless that was the two male bare bums which would not have appeared in the 1949 production?
- Richard Woodward