There is no doubt that even some 65 years after its triumphant opening on Broadway, South Pacific still captivates audiences, and retains a lot of its relevance about race, prejudice and the futility of war and the power of love.
There is equally no doubt that this award winning production, directed by Bartlett Sher, and straight from Broadway, is a most welcome and timely enhancement to Australian stages. Some of Richard Rodgers’ greatest hits and finest tunes are brilliantly presented in this stunning production, so that it’s hard not to sing along.
The first rich chords from the 27 piece Adelaide Art Orchestra, made it plain that this was no average band for an average musical. Conducted by Musical Director Stephen Gray, this band ably supported the emotion of the well-known songs, and gave the whole production great musical credibility. Equally, there are no scrubbers in this cast. Teddy Tahu-Rhodes as Emile De Becque, superbly partnered by Lisa McCune as Nellie Forbush, with Mitchell Butel (Luther Billis) and Christine Anu (Bloody Mary) lead a talented and vigorous cast. There is fine solo and choral singing, convincing accents, mostly persuasive acting, and occasionally stylised choreography (albeit precisely executed), producing an Enchanted Evening.
Adelaide audiences in particular can be proud of the roles played by the Tran family singers (Bridget, Paige and Tayor) as De Becque children, as well as other locals in chorus roles.
Again beyond doubt is Teddy T-R’s extraordinary voice, with its amazingly chocolaty-rich stentorian tones, more than equal to the large orchestra. Its power, together with his towering 6ft. 4in. presence, were almost too intense for the character of the gentle, hurt, peace-loving, even delicate De Becque. Nevertheless, there is a strong chemistry between him and Lisa McC’s Nellie, who carries much of the show, and was convincingly in Love With a Wonderful Guy.
Other notable elements are the energetic entrance of the sailor chorus and their jolly “Bloody Mary is the Girl I Love”, and “There is Nothing like a Dame!”. Blake Bowden (Lieutenant Cable) showed off a charming voice in “My Girl Back Home” and the strong “You’ve Got to be Taught (to hate all the people your relatives hate)”. The gorgeous, evocative “Bali Ha’i” was impressively sung by Christine Anu. Meanwhile, the “special island” itself loomed alluringly in the background of the fine set (Michael Yeargan), mysteriously disappearing into and reappearing from clouds, with lighting by Donald Holder.
In spite of some of its dated sentiments, this musical survives with the excellence of its music, and the strength of its themes, and while we are left with a sense that the whole nature of the Pacific changed inevitably through that terrible war, we the audience left In Love With a Wonderful show.
The Lincoln Center Theater
by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Director Bartlett Sher
Venue: Adelaide Festival Theatre | King William Rd, Adelaide
Dates: Dec 29, 2013 – Jan 26, 2014
Tickets: from $59.90
Bookings: 13 12 46