Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic musical South Pacific is currently touring venues throughout the UK.
Set on a tropical island during World War II, South Pacific focuses on the romantic entanglements of two couples. American nurse Nellie Forbush ponders whether to continue her relationship with French plantation owner Emile de Becque, while US Marine Joseph Cable becomes romantically involved with native girl Liat. The show has some outstanding songs, including I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair, There is nothing like a dame, I’m in love with a wonderful guy, Younger than springtime and Some enchanted evening. South Pacific is widely considered one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s finest pieces of musical theatre and the 1958 film starring Mitzi Gaynor remains a girls’ night-in favourite.
The Tony Award-winning Lincoln Center Theater production opened at the Barbican in London in August and is now on the road until May 2012. The show received mixed reviews during the London run. I caught it at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow last week; unfortunately, by the time the curtain fell, my feelings about this production were also mixed.
On one level, South Pacific was an extremely pleasant way to spend an evening and there were a number of high points. Excellent staging, with a 25-piece live band, the musical numbers totally hit the spot (several people around me were singing along with gusto). Welsh baritone Jason Howard (Emile) has a powerhouse of a voice—I was sat up in the nosebleed section and even at that distance from the stage my seat vibrated every time that he sang. Alex Ferns as Luther Billis and Loretta Ables Sayre as Bloody Mary both brought real warmth and humour to the show.
However, my big gripe with this production was the complete absence of chemistry between the four main characters. Nellie (EastEnders star Samantha Womack) and Emile’s relationship lacked any real passion or purpose. In the real world, I don’t believe that they would have made it past the first date, let alone got to the point of contemplating marriage. Even more two-dimensional was the coupling of Lt. Cable (Daniel Koek) and Liat (Elizabeth Chong). As a result, I was unable to connect with any of these characters and the tear-jerker finale of the show fell flat and seemed emotionally devoid. I left the theatre dry-eyed, which is not my usual state after a night of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
So, would I recommend that you splash out on a ticket for the UK tour of South Pacific? Yes, I would, because on balance it was an enjoyable night out. Just don’t expect any high drama.