Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Theater Review: Lincoln Center’s South Pacific Broadway Tour

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 04:37


The Lincoln Center Theater’s 2008 production of South Pacific has launched its national tour and it has made its way to the Bob Carr Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando. This version of the show is a completely redesigned staging of the classic musical that won 7 Tony Awards (including Best Revival of a Musical) in 2008. I wish I could tell you I had seen any other production of South Pacific; but I never have. So, I have no other benchmark in which to compare this newly conceived staging of a musical that opened on Broadway in 1949! That being said, I’m afraid this fresh perspective provided very little in-terms of entertainment; and it had very little impact. The singing, orchestrations, and sets are top-notch. But, the story seems so “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” that I didn’t find it to be very engaging at all. In fact, you know there’s a problem when you find yourself staring at your watching wishing the curtain would close just to get you out of your misery. This show has its ups and downs; but its downs far outweigh its ups, resulting in a boring 3-hour event.

The story takes place in, well, the South Pacific circa World War II. A group of nurses is stationed on a South Pacific island and one, Nellie Forbush, has fallen in-love (quite quickly) with local French man Emile de Becque, who we discover, is living on the island somewhat in exile. After the opening numbers, the scene shifts and the audience is introduced to the other main characters in the story–the Navy men who are stationed on the island–who are then joined by a young handsome Lt. Joseph Cable. Military leaders need assistance from de Becque in navigating some spy missions on the island and in Act II, he and Cable join forces to carry the missions out. Before partnering up and embarking on their journey, however, Cable falls in love with a local polynesian woman and Nellie discovers de Becque is a widower father of two mixed-race children. Act II then develops this plotline further as both characters struggle to reconcile their love for an opposite-race person with the fact opposite-race relationships go against their social mores and could never be reality back home in the United States.

Like I mentioned, the traditional South Pacific Rodgers and Hammerstein music and Robert Russell Bennett score are both soaring. And the actors in this production have more than enough chops to pull off the demands of the libretto. Katie Reid performs the role of Nellie extravagantly and has a gorgeous voice that is perfect for the part. And Shane Donovan’s voice seems perfectly fitted for the role of Lt. Cable. And while Marcelo Guzzo’s voice is beautiful, the accent of his Emile de Becque is so harsh and overdone that the vast majority of the lyrics he sings are incoherent and jumbled. It was so bad, people around us were actually laughing at their inability to decipher his words during the long, drawn-out, and overdone number “This Nearly Was Mine” in Act II. Although Guzzo’s slightly heavy accent was bothersome, the real problems I had with the show was in its book. The story moves at a snail’s pace. By intermission (which occurs 90 minutes after the show’s initiation!), I mentioned to my friend watching the show with me that I think I could’ve told the entire story up to that point in about 4 numbers!

The songs, while beautiful, often had several reprises that didn’t significantly add to the emotion of the scene. For example, the ending part of “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” was repeated at least 3 times, which did nothing but extend the scene unnecessarily longer than needed. The emotion of the show is also lacking. But, this might have a lot to do with the era of the musical itself more than its quality. Remember, it was first staged in 1949. While I could relate to the internal struggle of the main characters’ strife with falling in love with someone from a different race, this has been depicted so much more effectively in more recent shows like Memphis, Hairspray!, and Miss Saigon. And unlike those three examples, which made a gigantic emotional impact on me personally in their portrayal of similar internal conflict in opposite-race couples, South Pacific did not.

Some musicals have content that is worth revisiting from a historical perspective. Cabaret is a powerful musical that combines elements of the horrors of Nazi Germany with the social entertainment of the time to make a statement about genocide that only solidifies its disgusting occurrence in world history. Titanic is a timeless story of the ill-fated luxury liner and graciously portrays the stories of each class and the main socialites who were aboard the ship for its doomed maiden voyage. And shows like Ragtime and Parade depict real events in American history that show how racism, fascism, and anti-sematism poisoned our culture. A revival of those shows makes sense because their stories are timeless.

But the themes of South Pacific are not timeless. Struggles with societal and cultural acceptance of opposite-race relationships are an unfortunate reality of America’s past and present. And when more modern theater has demonstrated similar story lines but have delivered them in a much more powerful and effective manner, perhaps older outdated productions like South Pacific feel out of place and in the end, feel a little inferior as well. South Pacific plays at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center through Sunday.

1 Comment »

  1. Having had the pleasure and experience of the Original production and cast, the subject matter and personalities of the cast were pertinent for the period; both for the story, as well as daily life of the “Individuals” depicted.

    Fortunately, for many, the tragedies depicted in the play are quaint history, but, still, for too many, the problems and predjudis (sp?)depicted are still serious problems in daily living.

    Comment by Jerry6 — Saturday, December 31, 2011 @ 12:19

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Powered by WordPress