Left – Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Lisa McCune. Cover – Lisa-McCune and cast. Photos – Jeff Busby
Overture: welcome to South Pacific and the flood of memories; time and place, space and grace and all the years inbetween. Oh my, can one musical bring back such a flood of nostalgia?
South Pacific: I never realised how close this was when I was a young thing watching the Rodgers and Hammerstein movie of the same name with my parental units; later listening to the record over and over and over and over again!
Who in the audience did not know most of the songs from this classic? I thought I had remembered them all (I sang along in my mind, lucky for the people sitting beside me, in front of me and behind me). A few tunes had slipped past but are now recombobulated for my new brain to embrace: a whole new era of enchanted evenings and washing men from my hair.
Speaking of enchanted evenings, how special is this show?
Take a bow Michael Yeargan as Set Designer: the set design is all-embracing, with intricate and seamless changes setting the scene from Bali to plantation house to beach with one palm, war office, planes, showers, and stage show performance area. The maps on the wall add cred to the statement from Nellie, "in the hottest months you could always go to Australia", positioning this war 'frolic' closer to our shores than I had ever imagined. I was a kid after all, why would I remember such a strategic point as geography?
Contemporary as all get out, South Pacific is as relevant now as it was in 1949, with liberal lashings of racism, wars and their overall stupidity; tolerance and naturally, love the conqueror of all! Some things just don't change, war being one of them.
Even though this is the 60th anniversary of the first production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, it is still a first for Opera Australia, teaming up with John Frost, Australia's "most prolific and successful music theatre producer." High acclaim indeed with direction by Bartlett Sher, 1000 performances under the Broadway belt, with 7 Tony awards and still packing in the crowds.
Why Opera Australia? To purloin a quote from the book, "South Pacific certainly possesses the fundamental quality of opera, namely that the music knows more about its characters than its characters know about themselves."
A show of this magnitude is only as good as the sum of its parts, and some parts are breathtaking. Let's start with the singer/dancer/actor legends.
Lisa McCune as Nellie Forbush - what a talent. Is there anything this woman can't do? Great actress, but can she sing? Can she dance? Well, yes and then some! What a dynamic and energetic performer. Lisa feasts on this role with a voice as clear as crystal and as multi-faceted.
Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Emile De Becque) an established opera and concert performer, with ARIA, Helpmann, MO and Green Room awards, joins South Pacific in his first musical theatre role. Commanding voice - he doesn't even have to sing, his baritone rumblings errupting from down low already sends chills up your spine, and when he opens up his mouth to actually sing, the plaster starts dripping down the walls! Such power.
Gyton Grantley plays Luther Billis and he is into everything. What a character part, and what an overall performer. The lad can act, sing and dance (and flip and trip and skip and blip from stage left to right to left to right with comic relief and dirty dealings).
Christine Anu (Bloody Mary) has two decades' worth of music, theatre, dance, film and television ensconced in her 'shrunken' head: she is bloodier than Mary ever was and you just love to loathe her and hope never to have to do business with her! Unless, of course, that business is audience participation...
Daniel Koek as Lieutenant Cable makes his Australian debut in South Pacific, after its London premiere and extensive UK tour. Seems everyone has to have an award or two, and Daniel is no slacker in this department either. Daniel has a strong and captivating voice, convincing the audience. Tenor or a fiver, my money is on Daniel as a name to look out for - pitch perfect.
The cast is far too huge and talented to name everyone and the South Pacific Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Gray, supplies the heart beat for the show to pulse into our veins, unfalteringly awesome and a marriage of grand proportions, supporting each and every actor.
A show of this latitude and longitude needs an excellent Lighting Designer (Donald Holder shines the light) and Costume Designer (Catherine Zuber) recreates the era with style and authenticity - these chosen ones put South Pacific back on the map.
For those of us with these timeless songs rattling around in our heads, it is like returning home for succour: for those who have not lived through the first incarnation of South Pacific, do not miss it this time around. You will not be disappointed as it truly is "one enchanted evening..."
Opera Australia presents a Lincoln Center Theatre production
Rodgers & Hammerstein
Director Bartlett Sher
Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC | Cnr Grey and Melbourne Streets, Southbank
Dates: Dec 27 2012 – Jan 27 2013
Tickets: $114.90 – $79.90
Bookings: 136 246 | www.qpac.com.au