Oct 28, 2011

Review: South Pacific [UK Tour]

Musical: Lincoln Center Theater Production of Rodgers and Hamerstein's South Pacific
Venue: Palace Theatre, Manchester, UK
Date: 25th October 2011 at 19:30
Cast: Jason Howard (Emile De Becque), Samantha Womack (Ensign Nellie Forbush), Loretta Ables Sayre (Bloody Mary), Alex Ferns (Luther Billis), Daniel Koek (Lt. Joseph Cable), Nigel Williams (Captain Brackett), Dominic Taylor (Commander Harbison), Elizabeth Chong (Liat), Nicholais Kerry (Jerome) and Sophia-Rose Kerry (Ngana)
Rating: ****1/2

Another highly anticipating musicals of the year is the transfer of the 2008 Tony Award Winning Lincoln Center Theater's production of South Pacific directed by Bartlett Sher. The musical first opened at the Barbican Theatre with 2 of the original Broadway revival cast, Paulo Szot and Loretta Ables Sayre as Emile and Bloody Mary. I have seen the show as aired on PBS so I'm quite familiar with the music and storyline but was still excited to have seen it live when the touring production came to Manchester and I got a great centre stall seat, for half price!

The front of the Palace Theatre in Manchester
A view of the curtain from where I sat
Unfortunately, Paulo Szot only played in London and Jason Howard took over the role on tour. The rest of the Barbican cast reprised their roles on tour including Samantha Womack as Nellie, Daniel Koek as Lt. Cable, Alex Ferns as Billis and Loretta Ables Sayre as Bloody Mary.

I must say that this was probably one of the best casting for a touring production I have ever seen. I feel that the actors were very talented. They acted well and they sang really well. Jason Howard possessed a lovely bass/baritone voice which was suited for the role of Emile de Becque. His "Some Enchanted Evening" and "This Nearly Was Mine" brought thunderous applause. Samantha Womack was just breathtakingly beautiful and stunning from the first moment she appeared on stage (she kinda resembles Michelle Pfeiffer, anyone?). She also sang very well, though not as funny as Kelli O' Hara but she definitely made the role her own and did a believable Southern accent.

Jason Howard as Emile de Becque
during "This Nearly Was Mine"

Samantha Womack as Nellie Forbush
towards the finale in Act One
I was surprised that Loretta Ables Sayre didn't win the Tony. I just loved how she played Bloody Mary. She was absolutely perfect: the singing, the acting, the accent. Bravo!  

Loretta Ables Sayre
Tony Nominee Loretta Ables Sayre as Bloody Mary
 Daniel Koek, who was brilliant as Anatoly in Chess, was an excellent Lt. Cable. His "Younger Than Springtime" was just beautiful and damn romantic. The only cast member that I found lacking was Alex Ferns as Seabees Luther Billis. His performance really resembled original Broadway revival cast, Danny Burstein, a lot. But to me, it seemed a bit like he was just copying of him and it made the role not as funny as it could have been. Still, he delivered some of the funniest jokes of the night and his "There's Nothin' Like a Dame" was great. The ensemble, both male and female, was also very strong.

Daniel Koek as Lt. Cable
during "Younger Than Springtime"
seen here with Elizabeth Chong as Liat

Alex Ferns as Luther Billis with the "boar's tooth"
The production I attended was very identical to the one I saw on PBS. The only difference was that the Lincoln Center stage was much larger and deeper which made the sceneries simply grander. However, I found that the sets worked well with the Palace Theatre stage so no problems with that. The sets and costumes were beautiful and cleverly designed. The lighting was absolutely beautiful and masterful. 

"Honey Bun" at the Thanksgiving Follies
Then we come to the music. Being a musical written in 1949 by 2 of the greatest American musical composers, the show is obviously old-fashioned. Don't get me wrong. I love the music so much. The moment the overture started, I got hooked up immediately and as an individual piece, each song is beautiful in its own right. However, as a musical, I found that the whole piece should have come together more smoothly. What I got was dialogue, song intro begins at the end of dialogue (signaling a song coming), song, song ends, back to dialogue, song intro begins.. and so on. I feel that the piece could use some underscore during dialogue to make the transition between dialogue and song and between songs more seamlessly. Also, I found that most Rodgers and Hammerstein's ballads are too long and repetitive which could (and did, in my case) take away the audience engagement with the song. I was very moved by "This Nearly Was Mine" but as the song kept going, I became bored. This happened to me when I saw Oklahoma! last year and even in some parts of The Sound of Music. But who am I to criticise a classic!

"Bloody Mary"
The book, on the other hand, was very strong and it did draw you in a lot. Still, as a non-native speakers, I must admit that I didn't get some part of the storyline especially the parts with Billis. So, for the sake of my own enjoyment, I just ignored that part and focused on the romance. I personally enjoyed the second act a lot and the ending was very moving. I also like a more dramatic piece in the show like "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught".

"I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair"
seen here with Jacqueline Tate (as Head Nurse) and Samantha Womack
I enjoyed the show a lot but I'm not sure if I would like to recommend it to everybody. The musical deals with a very serious subject matters so it is definitely not for kids. The show itself is also very long, running at 3 hours with first act being 95 minutes long already. The piece itself also feels more like an opera piece rather than a musical to me so newcomers to musicals may not enjoy this as much as fans will. There were 2 couples sitting next to me (that's the total of 4 people) who left after the interval. Personally, I say Rodgers and Hammerstein's is not for everyone! But if you wanna treat yourself to a good dramatic musical with good book and superb cast, go see South Pacific while you can!

The final reprise of "Honey Bun"
before the Finale Ultimo
I met with some of the casts at the stage door after the show and I must say that they are one of the most friendly casts I've met. 

Below is the montage of the show featuring Paulo Szot and Samantha Womack.

Overture... Orchestra
Dites-Moi... Ngana and Jerome
A Cockeyed Optimist... Nellie
Twin Soliloquies... Nellie and Emile
Some Enchanted Evening... Emile
Dites-Moi (Reprise)...Ngana, Jerome and Emile 
Bloody Mary... Seabees
There Is Nothin' Like a Dame... Billis and Seabees 
Bali Ha'i... Bloody Mary
Bali Ha'i (Reprise)... Cable
My Girl Back Home... Cable and Nellie 
I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair... Nellie and Nurses
Some Enchanted Evening (Reprise)... Emile and Nellie
A Wonderful Guy... Nellie and Nurses
Bali Ha'i (Reprise)... Island Women
Younger Than Springtime... Cable
Finale Act One... Emile and Nellie

Entr' Acte... Orchestra
Happy Talk... Bloody Mary
Younger Than Springtime (Reprise)... Cable
Honey Bun... Nellie, Billis and Ensemble
You've Got to Be Carefully Taught... Cable and Emile
This Nearly Was Mine... Emile
Some Enchanted Evening (Reprise)... Nellie
Honey Bun (Reprise)... Seabees, Sailors and Nurses
Finale Ultimo... Emile, Nellie, Ngana and Jerome

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