SOUTH PACIFIC – Festival Theatre – 4K

By Heather-Jean Moyes

The opening night for Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific at the Festival Centre was a smashing hit. How could it be not, with the interval timed for the 9pm fireworks and a splendid after party with a viewing area set up for the midnight show?

The show itself was every bit as good as this high concept open suggested it might be. Lisa McClune was possibly born and raised on the floorboards of Broadway. Many people were surprised when she transitioned from the heights of a Logie Award winning television role and hoofed her way to the top of a new genre with such on stage virtuosity. It’s true. She shines. As Nellie she totally nails the dance routines, the wonderfully memorable songs and the dramatic and comic performance required. She is very precise and makes excellent choices.

With South Pacific Teddy Tahu Rhodes enters the musical tradition for the first time. He has a voice that simply has to be heard. A baritone soloist with a stellar career behind him, he charmed us with his vocal chords giving great sympathy to the character, Emile. Eyes were riveted as his presence provided focus on stage. I am not sure if he struggled with the French accent or if it was the volume level during the early part of the first act, it was soon rectified but for a while the level of the orchestra competed with the voices and my ears picked up on it.

The Marines were a well-disciplined and talented crew. The routines were dynamic, fun and made excellent use of the space. Mitchell Butel shone as the shyster Luther Billis with comic timing and athleticism that one expects in the very best. In fact they were all pretty buff. Of course Andrew Hondromatidis playing Stewpot made the most of his non-buff visage with physical gags and visual comic asides, not just a well turned out array of shtick but choreographed and story based stuff. Rowan Witt as the Professor was also suitably comic with his slapstick long and lanky antics of an educated dufus. The nurses had their lookers but really did the hard yards by creating character out of comedy, comedy out of character and the 1940s imagery of shoulder pads, halter tops and well designed bras.

Christine Anu inhabited the character of Bloody Mary with much more realism than the filmed version allowed. Her ability to send a range of signals with very little effort and her timing made one feel safe and ready for more. Blake Bowden had the purity of voice that lent itself to the soul searching Lieutenant Cable. His delivery felt reliable despite the fear one always holds for a performer in the process of delivering excellence and he performed with a similar degree of exactitude when dramatizing the physical and emotional aspects of a man sick of body and unsure of mind.

Bartholomew John, as Captain Brackett and Jeremy Stanford as Harbison both added flesh to the bones of living breathing show with their perfectly timed lines, comic touches playing two well developed and distinctly different characters.

Celina Yuen gave a dancelike performance as she conveyed more without words than I could imagine possible. And the young actors, well they were ever so sweet and managed their roles admirably.

Costumes were to die for. Is there a South Pacific range coming out anytime soon? Mind you, I don’t know why but I didn’t think Teddy looked comfortable in his first costume. I know loose cream linen is a good look for a plantation guy. I just didn’t want to go with this one. His body seemed to need more structure. A minor point – it’s hard to fault anything in this production so I had to get down to some pretty small observations.

Once the music mix was addressed the delivery of the classic sound track was all but flawless. I felt it was a little rushed on a number of occasions but my mother, a musician herself didn’t seem to think so. The hairs on the back of my neck told me that the recipe had to be about right. South Pacific is one of my favourite musicals but it was clear that the audience truly enjoyed this production and I think the cast did too.

The direction was complex with much attention to detail creating a show that was interesting and performances that were true to the original but fresh in their presentation. The mise en scene, the lighting and sets were simple but effective, which is not to say perfunctory. Far from it, they worked with the choreography, provided cinematic beauty and told the story. The intricately worked out dance numbers created a relationship with the set. The transitions used choreographed moves to clear props seamlessly linking the story, and bringing the location to life. Add to this a cast of well rehearsed and fun performers, acting, singing and dancing in a spectacle that made excellent use of the set, told the story with authenticity and gave life to one of my ‘faves’, and you have my recommendation.

Kryztoff Rating   4K

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