Terry Wills is enchanted by the latest production of South Pacific.
Devotees of musical theatre would already know this classic offering which took place at the new Alexandra Theatre so could once again sit back and enjoy the familiarity of one of the finest productions ever written.
South Pacific opened on Broadway in 1949, and over the course of its more than sixty year history has scooped virtually every honour up for grabs, including eight prestigious Tony awards. The story telling of a group of American GI’s and naval personnel drafted on to an island hoping to spy on the activities of the Japanese Navy, is played to perfection during this production.
The principal characters, Frenchman Emile de Beque, and Ensign Nurse Nellie Forbush, find themselves drawn together, naturally, and inevitably, falling in love despite their vastly different backgrounds and status – and a secret he’s hiding from her.
The respective roles of Emile and De Beque both portray their obvious feeling slowly and surely, but with De Beque eventually leaving the island to undertake a spying mission for the American authorities, whether such a relationship will reach fruition has to be open to doubt. Their growing relationship is mirrored by that of Lieutenant John Cable (Daniel Koek ) and Liat (Elizabeth Chong) the daughter of Bloody Mary (Loretta Ables Sayre) a brash loud, sassy, seller of souvenirs (mainly shrunken human heads), who’s delighted at the prospect of possibly seeing Liat eventually married to the ‘beautiful’ Lieutenant.
South Pacific encompasses melodies that have stood the test of time. From Bali Ha’I, Younger than Springtime, Happy Talk to the more upbeat Cockeyed Optimist, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, There Is Nothing Like a Dame and Honey Bun, their familiarity never dulls their enchantment (more about that later) .
The principal roles are taken by Matthew Cammelle and Carly Anderson. Matthew comes with an impressive growing reputation, invited to appear in the Phantom of the Opera’s 25th year Anniversary at the Royal Albert Hall after starring in the West End production, plus a role in the acclaimed Les Miserables, and any artist of that calibre has to be well worthy of the honour. The reception he receives at curtain down proved that the audience agreed wholeheartedly.
Carly Anderson, stepping in for the ill Samantha Womack, was also impressive, as was the rest of the cast who joined in the fun and frolics with gay abandon, not to say a glimpse of cheeky bare flesh in certain numbers.
Cameron Jack as Luther Billis is an over the top character seizing on any possible scheme that could hopefully see him gain a few extra dollars. Naturally, a theatre production can never reciprocate the wonderful film setting of the movie, but within the confines of a stage the sight of the backdrop of Bali Hai, coupled with the haunting score, left me feeling that the South Pacific islands must be among the most beautiful places on earth. One of the most memorable songs written by Oscar Hammerstein II was Some Enchanted Evening. A cold night in Birmingham could never, in anyone’s imagination, possibly equal a fantasy visit to such a place but the title of this song summed up my feelings as I left the theatre.
If you had seen South Pacific before, I would be extremely surprised if you felt this current touring production failed to live up to expectations. It’s a musical that will always guarantee a truly enjoyable night out.