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Review: South Pacific; Grand Theatre, Leeds, until 7
Rare are the musicals that take on powerful questions of their time and yet are utterly brimming with charm. The Lincoln Center Theater production of South Pacific, directed by Bartlett Sher, does both, with distinction.
This is an American show to its fingertips. Yet it comes as a complete surprise to find that there is only one American in this entire cast, the Hawaiian-born Jodi Kimura, who is perfectly cast as Bloody Mary. The rest look and sound totally American. Most true-to-type of them all are the officers and men of the US Navy, with all the casual swagger and macho poses of popular imagination.
When the Seabees come bursting onto the stage with There is Nothin’ Like a Dame, the testosterone level breaks all records and the show goes into orbit. The smaller ladies chorus makes a quick riposte with I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair and picks up the cudgels again winningly in Honey Bun after the interval. For Christopher Gattelli’s choreography is breathtakingly creative, riotous yet disciplined.
The New Hebridean island is simply evoked in Michael Yeargan’s sets, with a seascape bathed in Donald Holder’s ‘hot’ lighting and multiple blinds to shade rapid scene-changes. The captain’s office is decorated with a large map of western Polynesia, which further fires faraway fantasies.
The background is may be war in the Pacific, but race also rears its head here. Ensign Nellie Forbush, in love with French planter Emile de Becque, has serious reservations about his two Eurasian children (cutely played on Thursday by Sophia-Rose and Nicholais Kerry), while Lt Joseph Cable wonders how he can take an oriental wife home to the States. The show confronts both problems head on, but tactfully.
Matthew Camelle’s baritone is finely attuned to Emile’s arias: Some Enchanted Evening is romantic, but in This Nearly Was Mine he combines a fiery bite with subtle sarcasm that makes it the hit of the evening.
Samantha Womack as Nellie is the archetypal sweet girl-next-door, an ingénue who is not to be easily swayed. She is a natural creature of the stage. So it is a pity that her soprano never quite resonates fully, which undermines her emotional credibility, for example in A Wonderful Guy.
Daniel Koek’s Cable uses his pleasing tenor intelligently, both in Younger Than Springtime and the sardonically racist You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught. Elizabeth Chong is his seductive sweetheart, Liat. Alex Ferns is a supercharged Billis, but his rapid accent was unintelligible to all my companions.
Peter McCarthy sustains excellent continuity in his responsive orchestra, who revel in the seemingly endless hits of this exhilarating show. Please don’t miss it.
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