One enchanting, and very hot, humid south Pacific style, afternoon was spent at the Four Season Centre last week taking in the first Broadway revival of South Pacific. It's the only Canadian stop for the touring production of the show that started at the Lincoln Center in New York. Incidentally, that run closes tomorrow. As an added bonus, Thursday night the Lincoln Center production was the subject of "Live from Lincoln Center" on PBS. So since I got to see two different casts, in the same show, days apart, hence there will be a bit of comparison to follow.
To start with we had great seats--first row of the raised rear orchestra level, so no heads in the way. Although, there was no view of the actual orchestra which was too bad since at 26 members it's now considered large for a Broadway show. There was a low register clarinet part during Liat's dance in "Happy Talk" that sounded tricky and fun at the same time...if only I could have seen the score and the person playing. I believe PBS mentioned the Lincoln Center orchestra is 30 members and the stage there is really cool, it retracts to expose the pit for the overture and entr'acte, then extends covering most of the pit for the show.
The music is of course by the well established Rodgers and Hammerstein, presented in the original orchestrations, and everyone's voice was amazing! Carmen Cusack as Nurse Nellie Forbush had a delightful Little Rock accent (well presumably, I've never been to Arkansas) and a great spunky energy as she "Wash[ed] That Man Right Outa [Her] Hair", was a "Cockeyed Optimist", and in love with "A Wonderful Guy".
It's been a while since I've seen the movie, and maybe there it comes a lot later, but I was surprised that "Some Enchanted Evening" was in the opening scene. But what a way to start off a show! Jason Howard as Emile de Becque was phenomenal! His opera background showed and his voice made me sigh, relax, and soak it all in. Just gorgeous to listen to and what I think an Emile should look like, more so than the Lincoln Center counterpart. It was in a biography on Ethel Merman where I first heard that the turning point song in the second act is referred to as the "11 o'clock song", a hold over from when performances started at 8:30pm and the song would appear around 11pm. I'd say in South Pacific it's "This Nearly Was Mine" and Howard brought the house down. It didn't quite stop the show but I imagine if you put his same performance back in 1949 when the original opened, it would have. Anderson Davis played Lt. Joseph Cable and in addition to a great voice, showed off his totally ripped abs!
At times Bloody Mary seemed over the top, pushing a bit too hard in the acting portion, although "Bali Ha'i" and "Happy Talk" were sung with an appropriate tone. I preferred the Toronto cast to the Lincoln Center one where it seemed like several characters (Luther Billis for example) had an extra forcefulness which came across to me as over acting. The shouting got tiring and monotonous after a while, whereas the mix in Toronto was well executed. Luther, played by Matthew Saldivar, was funny, charming, and the kind of ham everyone loves as "Honey Bun".
South Pacific is definitely worth seeing before it sails away into the Bali Ha'i sunset.