Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"South Pacific": ☼ ☼ ☼ baub BANG

Richard Rodgers' melodies and Oscar Hammerstein II's lyrics are always timeless. Their ground-breaking musical "South Pacific," which debuted in 1949, not only introduced iconic songs like "Bali Hai," "Some Enchanted Evening" and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," but also attempted to deal with racism, a subject never before discussed in a major Broadway musical. As always, Rodgers and Hammerstein were at the cutting edge of musical theater. What they did influenced a generation of writers who followed them.

The 2008 Lincoln Center production, which arrives at the Golden Gate Theater for a six week run, packs the pit with a live orchestra, using Rodgers' original scores and orchestrations. No tapes! No synthesizers!

The curtain opens on a spare but beautiful set by Michael Yeargan, showing French planter Emil de Becque's villa on an unnamed South Pacific island. We meet his two dark-skinned children who will figure in the eventual plot. De Becque (Rod Gilfry) enters with Ensign Nellie Forbush (Carmen Cusack) on his arm. She sings "A Cockeyed Optimist."

And that's about it for "South Pacific." De Becque and Cusack lack even a small demitasse cup of chemistry, but they are hot tamales compared to what happens when Lt. Joe Cable (Anderson Davis) comes on the scene. His romance with Liat (Sumie Maeda) is so silly, while remaining extraordinarily unsavory, it smacks of last-minute changes that just don't work.

True, "South Pacific" is a traditional show that needs an understanding hand at the helm. Director Bart Sher and Musical Staging Manager Christopher Gattelli may be hampered by the Golden Gate proscenium stage; still, characters walk in circles, barely avoiding bumping into each other, as they try to hit their marks to stop dead in their tracks and sing another song.

Highlights of the evening all come in a far more concise Act Two: "Happy Talk," sung by excellent Keala Settle as Bloody Mary, followed by "Honey Bun," "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" and "This Nearly was Mine" convey all the spirit and soul of the original show with none of the plodding set-up of Act One (which lasts a full 90 minutes-plus, all by itself).

Do you cut a classic? They certainly could. Act One is interminable. It makes us all long for our own Bali Hai, which is back home listening to Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ baub BANG

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "South Pacific" three stars with a Bauble of Despair followed by a BANGLE OF PRAISE. We who love classic American musical theater should go see this production because, well, just because. They don't come along very often. Don't expect magic, but do expect beautiful melodies, sung by singers whose timing should get better as the run progresses.

The bauble is for Lt. Joe Cable. He has nice pecs and a pretty tenor, but his role calls for depth. He gives us little.

On the BANGLE side, Matthew Saldivar's Luther Billis is filled with heart and soul. His energy is in stark contrast to the leads. Some enchanted evening, this production may work beautifully, but not yet.

"South Pacific"
Golden Gate Theatre
1 Taylor Street, San Francisco
Through Oct. 25

1 comment:

TaylorSwift said...

As many of theatre lovers I LOVE the musical South Pacific ! It is my favourite ever...I've seen it in New York and next week I’m going to visit my sister and I just got some pretty good tickets via.So I'll be analyzing as well as enjoying the show.