“South Pacific” is a timeless Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical full of wonderful romance and social commentary about racism that is important for young and old to experience today and I was thoroughly impressed with Drury Lane’s warm, happy, romantic interpretation of the classic show. It is the latest of shows to run at the theatre and perhaps the best I can remember in recent history.
Taking place on a South Pacific island during World War II, the plot revolves around Ensign Nellie Forbush, an American nurse, who falls in love with a French plantation owner, who is middle-aged and quite a bit older than her. It is when she discovers Emile de Becque’s children from his late, Asian wife, that she struggles with her own prejudices. As the island hosts American naval troops, nurses and its own natives, another love story develops between the handsome, young Lieutenant Joseph Cable and a beautiful Tonkinese woman, Liat. But he, too, fears the social costs.
Each and every voice in this production is outstanding. Robert Cuccioli as Emile de Becque really played the role nicely with a good sense of humor and his vocal numbers soared with great feeling and the experience of a seasoned pro bringing the entire audience under the spell of new and intoxicating island romance. Cuccioli has a wonderful, rich operatic voice and is very likable in the role, leaving us little doubt to his ability as a talented vocalist with his final, powerful note of “Emile’s Terrace” to close out Act I.
Samantha Hill as the down to earth “hick” “Ensign Nellie Forbush” is a pleasure to watch. Hill also has a gifted voice and her enthusiastic, good natured portrayal of Nellie falling in love with De Becque during “(I’m in Love with) A Wonderful Guy” was exactly the type of joyful, naïve, and honest portrayal of true love and excitement that the play needs to counter the heavy nature of the tragedy of war.
The musical, well-directed by Victor Malana Maog, also includes perhaps one of the strongest supporting casts in any production of “South Pacific” I have ever seen. Yvonne Strumecki is absolutely stunning as “Bloody Mary”. Strumecki’s vocals are rich and impressive and she is able to both hit the high notes and get the laughs in this role, which can be heavy handed if not approached just the way she did, with more warmth than anger. Strumecki’s voice is simply beautiful during my favorite song from the show, “Bali Hai,” and both desperate and wry during “Happy Talk,” as she tries to talk the Lt. Joseph Cable into staying with her beautiful native daughter, Liat.
As Lieutenant Joseph Cable, Austin Colby stuns the audience with his rendition of “Younger then Springtime,” his voice angelic and finely finessed – literally a show stopping moment.
In this well-cast classic, the ensemble of nurses and soldiers and officers are excellent singers and dancers - really drawing laughs from the audience and getting them involved during the adorable numbers “There is Nothing Like a Dame” and “I'm In Love with a Wonderful Guy”. Matt Crowle as Luther Billis is exceptional, displaying flawless comic timing, perhaps harnessing a bit from the school Art Carney.
The set design is a delicious tropical island with low hanging palm trees that rotate around the stage per scene, soft pools of light breaking through the leaves, really placing the audience in the Southern Pacific. The set was a delight to behold and immediately places the entire audience right in the middle of the warm, steamy heat and action from the moment the play switched from the impressive interior of de Becque’s ritzy home.
Overall, the cast is superb and meshes incredibly well with each other while the orchestra provides us with a dreamy soundtrack that along with the imaginative set, puts us in a tropical paradise.
“South Pacific” is almost in a category by itself. Few other musicals actually open with the leads falling in love at first sight to magical, unmatched quintessential lyrics like:
Some enchanted evening
When you find your true love,
When you feel her call you
Across a crowded room,
Then fly to her side,
And make her your own
Or all through your life you
May dream all alone
I highly recommend seeing Drury Lane’s production of “South Pacific” for the many wonderful vocal performances of spectacular songs like “Some Enchanted Evening”, “Bali Hai” and “Younger than Springtime” and also for the wonderfully warm, inviting and joyful interpretation of this enduring classic about true love.
“South Pacific” is being performed at Drury Lane through June 17th. For more show information visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.