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A CurtainUp Review
South Pacific

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made. . .
.—--from "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught"

I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific. The way it actually was. The endless ocean. The infinite specks of coral we called islands. Coconut palms nodding gracefully toward the ocean. Reefs upon which waves broke into spray, and inner lagoons, lovely beyond description. I wish I could tell you about the sweating jungle, the full moon rising behind the volcanoes, and the waiting. The waiting, the timeless, repetitive waiting.
—James A Michener in Tales of the South Pacific 1946
Kelli O'Hara and Paulo Szot in South Pacific
Kelli O'Hara and Paulo Szot in South Pacific
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
I fell in love with South Pacific all over again. Whether you're old enough to have seen the original, the movie, a high school or regional revival, or simply know the songs (every single one a hit!). . .don't miss the chance to experience the "enchanted evening" created by director Bartlett Sher and his magnificent cast and creative team. This first Broadway revival in sixty years soars — from the moment the orchestra (led by Ted Sperling) launches into the overture of all musical overtures and the sand colored thrust stage rolls back to show its full complement of thirty musicians at work, right through to the final "Dites-Moi" that brings the romance of the cockeyed optimist from Arkansas (Kelli O'Hara) and her handsome French planter (Paul Szot) to its inevitably happy conclusion.

For many of us old-timers the small town American nurse and mysteriously glamorous plantation owner whose eyes locked and held "across a crowded room" were pixie Mary Martin and and opera baritone Ezio Pinza. Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi played Ensign Nellie Forbush and Emile de Becque in the movie. That wasn't as good as the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning stage musical (1949-54, 1,925 performances), but it did include a song, "My Girl Back Home" omitted on stage but happily restored in Mr. Sher's new production.

I've been fortunate to see some very handsome and well sung regional productions, with the enduring power of the book and music sustaining even modest stagecraft and smaller, less starry casts. But this no expense spared, fresh yet true to the original South Pacific has been way overdue and lays to rest concerns that a heroine raised and taught in Little Rock "to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made" would come across as politically outré and unsympathetic. With the country once again at war, a bi-racial candidate for President, this musical plea for tolerance is a fitting slice of our history as a country willing to fight for freedom abroad even while struggling with the fallout of our homegrown racial prejudices.

The was adapted by Oscar Hammerstein and Joshua Logan from James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific. It's a triple drama. The main plot revolves around a love-at-first sight romance between a sophisticated older man and a naive, fresh-faced young American. A subsidiary romance features a Princeton educated officer and a beautiful native girl . Inborn prejudice is the snake in the idyllic island of hope known as Bali h'ai. And since no self-respecting romance of that era can thrive without adventure, there's a mission than imperils both romantic leads, and leads to an at once sad and happy ending (Lt. Cable dies, deBeque survives and Nellie becomes color blind).

I mentioned the orchestra at the top of this review because it is truly a major star and that floor rolled back to spotlight the musicians is an inspired tribute. But the orchestra and the lovely and, for a change, gently and pleasingly amplified music are just one treat in a show stuffed to the brim with delights.

Just reading through the list of musical numbers will start the musical recording machine inside your head playing the score and at least some of the lyrics of this hit parade of funny, sad and romantic tunes. But contrary to the cliche, familiarity breeds fresh appreciation, especially when the beloved favorites are so beautifully interpreted.

The tall, dark and handsome Paulo Szot offers that rare thrill of seeing a star born. The Brazilian opera star is younger (38), slimmer and more handsome than Ezio Pinza. He is a debonair, charming and, yes, touching Emile. Oh, and that sublime baritone! No wonder the audience goes wild when he sings "This Nearly Was Mine."

Kelli O'Hara and Paulo Szot in South Pacific
Matthew Morrison as Lt. Cable
You couldn't wish for a better Nellie for Emile to fall in love with than Kelli O'Hara. Whether defining herself to be "a cockeyed optimist." joyously declaring that she's "in love with a wonderful guy" or is determined to "wash that man out of her hair" (yes her hair gets wet!), O'Hara is a personable, nuanced Nellie. The attraction between her and Szot sparkles authentically.

As the show's younger hero, Matthew Morrison who, like O'Hara worked with Sher in Light in the Piazza, brings a fine voice and equally fine physique to the role of Lt. Cable. Besides a moving rendition of the show's thematic signature song "You've Got to be Carefully Taught," Morrison also shines with "Younger Than Springtime " and the restored "My Girl Back Home."

Since this is a show that has it all, bravo also to the colorful portraits of the subsidiary characters like Danny Burstein's Luther Billis, Loretta Ables Sayre's Bloody Mary, Sean Cullen's Cmdr. William Harbison. Having it all, of course also means dancing as well as singing, so cheers too for Christopher Gattelli's fun staging of numbers like "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame", and "Honey Bun."

The folks at Lincoln Center are now listing this as an open-ended run. Here's hoping that O'Hara and Szotz and Morrison will take care of their voices to sustain the punishing 8-show a week run. And here's hoping someone is writing a great new musical to insure Mr. Szot's future as a treasure of the musical theater as well as the operatic stage.

Postscript: When you go to Lincoln Center, be sure to pick up a copy of the even more than usually informative Lincoln Center Theater Review. The entire issue is devoted to South Pacific and makes for fascinating background reading.

Music by Richard Rodgers. Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan.
Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener.
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Cast: Kelli O'Hara as nurse Nellie Forbush and Paulo Szot French plantation owner Emile de Becque and Matthew Morrison as Lt. Cable, Danny Burstein as Luther Billis, Loretta Ables Sayre as Bloody Mary, Sean Cullen as Cmdr. William Harbison, Victor Hawks (Stewpot), Luka Kain (Jerome), Li Jun Li (Liat), Laurissa Romain (Ngana), Thomas G. Waites (Captain George Brackett) and Noah Weisberg (Professor).
Ensemble: Becca Ayers, Wendi Bergamini, Genson Blimline, Grady McLeod Bowman, Charlie Brady, Matt Caplan, Christian Carter, Helmar Augustus Cooper, Jeremy Davis, Margot de la Barre, Christian Delcroix, Laura Marie Duncan, Mike Evariste, Laura Griffith, Lisa Howard, Maryann Hu, Zachary James, Robert Lenzi, Garrett Long, Nick Mayo, George Merrick, William Michals, Kimber Monroe, Emily Morales, Darius Nichols, George Psomas, Andrew Samonsky and Jerold E. Solomon.
Musical staging by Christopher Gattelli
Sets by Michael Yeargan
Costumes by Catherine Zuber
Lighting by Donald Holder
Sound by Scott Lehrer
Musical direction by Ted Sperling
Lincoln Center Vivian Beaumont. Theater, 150 West 65 Street, 212/239-6200,
From 3/01/08; opening 4/03/08
Closing 8/22/10-- after 1000 performances-- the longest running show ever at LC
Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm, Sunday at 3 pm
Running Time: 3 hours, including one 15 minute intermission.

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • 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, Emile
  • Bloody Mary/ Seabees
  • There Is Nothing Like a Dame/ Billis and Seabees
  • Bali Ha'i/ Bloody Mary
  • My Girl Back Home/Cable and Nellie
  • I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Out-a My Hair/ Nellie and Nurses
  • I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy/ Nellie and Nurses
  • >
  • Bali Ha'i (Reprise)/ Island Women
  • Younger Than Springtime/Cable
  • Finale/Nellie and Emile
Act Two
  • Entre'acte
  • Soft Shoe Dance / Nellie, Nurses and G.I.'s
  • Happy Talk/Bloody Mary, Liat and Lt.
  • Honey Bun/ Nellie , Billis and Ensemble
  • You've Got to Be Carefully Taught/ Cable
  • This Nearly Was Mine/ Emile
  • Some Enchanted Evening (Reprise) /Nellie
  • Finale/ Emiile, Nellie, Ngana, Jerome,

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The  Playbill Broadway YearBook
The Playbill Broadway YearBook

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide


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