Trevor Nunn’s revival of this classic musical is not as good as it should be. Many of the leading actors fail to impress and the choreography is poor. However, it has a good story with many great songs so the show still entertains!
“South Pacific” has music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II with book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan, adapted from the novel “Tales of the South Pacific” by James A Michener. “South Pacific” was an immediate hit on Broadway in 1949 and so too was the film version in 1958.
The story is set during the Second World War on a small island in the South Seas where Nellie, a US Navy nurse, falls for Emile de Becque, a French planter, and Lt Joe Cable finds love with the daughter of Bloody Mary, a Tonkinese trader. However, their feelings are tested when they have to confront their racism and by a top-secret spy mission undertaken against the Japanese fleet from behind enemy lines which places the two men in danger.
The biggest problem with the show is the miscasting. Lauren Kennedy fails to convince in the part of Nellie. Her portrayal of the character remains two dimensional, and does not express the conflicting emotions that Nellie goes through as she first finds true love and then loses it due to her bigotry. The same is true with Edward Baker Duly as Lt Joe Cable. He also comes across on stage as if he should be in the chorus and not a main character. He has an impassive face which was evident when Bloody Mary was singing “Bali Ha’I” and trying to allure him to visit the island. One got the impression that he was unsure of what was expected of him, maybe he needs more stage direction? Throughout the remainder of the musical he seemed incapable of expressing any emotion and all we got was wooden acting! Neither of these actors were credible leaving me unconcerned about their characters fate! Although, one has to be fair and say they both have excellent singing voices.
Philip Quast as Emile, a French planter, and Sheila Francisco as Bloody Mary, save the show. The dependable Quast produces a solid performance and brings to the show the much-needed passion. You believe in his character as he goes from happiness to despair. He also has a powerful and clear singing voice. The same with Sheila Francisco, she produces a touching and delightful performance that makes you feel for her character.
Matthew Bourne’s choreography is also a let down. A part from a couple of acrobat pieces by Phong Truong and a few towels being flung around there isn’t much to get excited about. This results in the musical lacking energy and vive, and if not for the excellent singing voices and amazing scenery could lead you to believe one was watching nothing more than a competent amateur production!
John Napier’s exotic set design works beautifully in capturing the essence of an island with palm trees, beautiful backdrops with a rippling sea and blue sky, along with trees and two real jeeps to boot.
The show has been well received by most of the popular press... BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, “South Pacific at the National is almost an enchanted evening.” CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, “The show may not be in the same league as the National's earlier musical hits, but at its best, as the song says, it offers some enchanted evening.” MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, “Decently dull production.” He goes on to say, “An evening that dutifully delivers a musical classic but only briefly acquires a touch of ecstasy.” RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT says, “A fabulous cast includes Lauren Kennedy as a wonderfully brassy-tender Nellie, Edward Baker-Duly as the clean-cut, anguished Lieutenant, Nick Holder as a flabby, fast-talking small-time Sergeant Bilko, and the fine John Shrapnel as the humane but comically exasperated Commander of the island.” NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “Glamour-laden, beautifully drilled production.” MICHAEL COVENEY for THE DAILY MAIL said, “Nunn's revival, magically designed by John Napier with exquisite lighting by David Hersey, is every bit as good as the RNT's previous Rodgers and Hammersteins, Carousel and Oklahoma!” SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT says the production is , "fatally unsexy" and "underpowered". He goes on to say, "It is also bloodless, overlong and lacks any narrative drive."
Lasting 3 hours and 15 minutes, “South Pacific” is a great musical, but this is not a great production. Nevertheless, it still has some marvellous songs such as “Some Enchanted Evening” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair”. And with a moving ending it is still worth seeing.
Links to full reviews from newspapers...