August 4th, 2010 5:33 pm | by BEN WATERHOUSE News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

LIVE REVIEW: Bartlett Sher's South Pacific Is One Enchanting Evening

Whenever I see a touring production at Keller Auditorium, I give myself a little pep talk. "Remember," I tell myself, "that these actors are nine months into a year-long tour. They probably hate this material by now, and just want to go home. Don't expect too much." And then I sit down, and the show begins, and I'm usually disappointed anyway.

Not this time. The touring production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, modeled after Bartlett Sher's Tony-sweeping 2008 Broadway revival, is the first road show I've seen since August: Osage County came through last year that didn't make me feel like the actors wished the audience would just go away. On the contrary—I enjoyed this production more than any musical I've seen in years.

It doesn't hurt that South Pacific's score ("Some Enchanted Evening," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair," "Bali Ha'i") is so good that audiences will leave even a mediocre staging humming. The touring cast, led by Carmen Cusack as Navy nurse Nellie Forbush and opera singer David Pittsinger as French expat Emile de Becque, with impressive help from Matthew Saldivar as the dancing engineer Luther Billis, all have excellent voices, backed by an almost unheard-of (these days) 24-piece orchestra. The singing is absolutely flawless.

But the downfall of most Rodgers and Hammerstein productions isn't the music so much as all the talking in between. What makes this cast really special is that they can all act. (The sole exception is the fellow playing Capt. George Brackett, who seems to have been hired only because he looks the part.) Emile and Nellie's relationship doesn't grow tedious, even over the course of the show's nearly three-hour running time. That's special.

This production is also very well designed. That spitfire in the shot above looks pretty real in person, and the play of light on the backdrop really makes the ocean seem to stretch on forever. But what really stand out are the costumes. Catherine Zuber created some beautiful, historically accurate uniforms and dresses for the show, not to mention the bathing suits:

This South Pacific is really, really sexy in a lovably innocent way. All Fosse's flopping can't match the erotic subtext of a show about a whole lot of horny young men and women in a tropical paradise who for are prohibited by their employer from actually getting any. As much as the show is about prejudice (Nellie dumps Emile because she can't bear the thought that his deceased wife was Indonesian), it's even more so about desire. And it's really, really good.

SEE IT: Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 241-1802. 7:30 pm Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 pm Saturday, 1 and 6:30 pm Sunday, Aug. 3-8. $23.50-$70.
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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