years after South Pacific’s Broadway debut came the movie,
guaranteeing “Some Enchanted Evening” and “I’m Gonna Wash
That Man Right Outa My Hair” would gain still more radio play—years
and years of it, in fact, because in the 1950s, Broadway still
fed the pop-song charts.
it was that these songs—not to mention “Bali Ha’i,” “A Wonderful
Guy,” “This Nearly Was Mine” and “Younger Than Springtime”—were
drummed into my young ears during my first decade of life,
songs I never set out to learn but still, to a large extent,
know by heart. Like so much to do with early childhood, they’re
may explain why, until last week, I’ve had no exposure to
the show from which they come. Director Bartlett Sher’s 2008
Broadway revival won so much acclaim—and seven Tony awards—that
it quickly spawned a national tour. This is what landed at
Proctors last week, and it was an impressively satisfying
piece of work.
material from three of the short stories in James Michener’s
Tales of the South Pacific, it centers on two unlikely romances
played against the backdrop of a Seabee-occupied Pacific island
in World War II. Characterizations are drawn in quick, bold
strokes; the array of memorable songs does the rest of the
Frenchman Emile de Becque was played in the original by Metropolitan
Opera star Ezio Pinza, who cast a very long shadow. Rod Gilfry
also has an opera background.
played De Becque in the classic opera park-and-bark style,
which is no discredit: It’s what the role demands. He brought
“Some Enchanted Evening” right down to the proscenium and
bathed the audience in it. De Becque begins as a slightly
shadowy character; by the time Gilfry brought his beautiful
voice to act 2’s stolid weeper “This Nearly Was Mine,” we
knew the more complicated man.
of Nellie Forbush probably seemed much more forward- thinking
60 years ago, but she still cuts a dynamic figure in the hands
of Carmen Cusack, who shrugged off the formidable shadow of
Mary Martin with a portrayal that was vivacious and charming.
A recent veteran of Wicked, she’s an excellent dancer and
singer whose only distraction was the country twang she too
often put into her numbers.
is the Arkansas-born nurse whose love for De Becque is shattered
by the discovery that he has mixed-race children by a deceased
wife, a dilemma addressed in the second act by the still-powerful
song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” This is sung by
the character of Joe Cable, a young Lieutenant who arrives
on the island as part of dangerous undercover mission.
Davis ripped into the number with bitter authority, making
it clear that this remains the heart of the show. His first-act
love song “Younger Than Springtime” seemed a little hurried,
but this one showed an actor in total control of his material.
standouts in the cast were Hawaii native (and Dallas transplant)
Keala Settle as Bloody Mary, whose anthemic “Bali Ha’i” had
a fresh urgency, and Matthew Salidvar as the contentious Luther
Billis, who leads the sailors in a knockout “There Is Nothin’
Like a Dame.”
it premiered, South Pacific spoke to a generation of GIs who
knew the story’s antecedents. Now it’s more of a museum piece,
so director Bartlett Sher wisely emphasized characters over
story and kept the production values high. It’s such a well-written
piece that it rewards his efforts with compelling immediacy.
Gattelli put together dances that seemed to occupy a space
twice as big as the Proctors stage and the large cast delivered
with precision. The mark of a good ensemble number is the
distinctive characterizations that the actors maintain; in
a number like “Honey Bun,” everyone worked together and yet
everyone was distinct.
was supported by a good-sized orchestra boasting many area
players, all under the skilled conducting of Lawrence Goldberg.
suppose this show ever will be truly outdated until the racial
issues it addresses are solved, so we probably can look forward
to several more lifetimes of South Pacific productions.