Wednesday, June 3, 2009

South Pacific - A delightful evening at the theatre "Bali Ha'i"

A friend called mid-day to offer me a ticket to Rodgers and Hammerstein's World II Drama South Pacific, playing at the Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. I scrambled to get a last minute babysitter and I am so glad I made the effort. I did not read any of the reviews as I am not a fan of musicals so I had no expectations about the performance.

I just loved everything about the play. The actors, the staging, the music, the set, all were phenomenal. The play is set during World War II on a small island in the South Pacific. The lead character, Nellie was played by Laura Osnes and she was amazing, a lot of charisma, charming and a fantastic singing voice. For someone who turned out to be a racist, she was an extremely perky and likable character. Her co-star, Brazlian Paulo Szot and love interest, was equally talented and quite handsome.

Nellie is a nurse stationed on the island who falls in love with Emile de Becque, a French Plantation owner. She soon finds out he has two non-white babies and is horrified that Emile was married to a "'colored" Polynesian woman and breaks up with him. She soon finds out he has volunteered to help the Americans fight the "Japs" (this is from 1949 after all) and overcomes her racist feelings to acknowledge her love for him and his children.

The remainder of the cast was up to the task and really enhanced the show. Danny Burstein as the scheming seebea, Luther Billis added humour to the play. Loretta Ables Sayre as Bloody Mary, a native Tonkinese woman who sells trinkets to the men on the island has a great singing voice, stage presence and was both funny and serious. I do have to say that the inter-racial story line between Lieutenant Cable (Matthew Morrison) and Liat (Li Jun Li), Bloody Mary's daughter was not especially moving.

Even though I knew the show was 3 hours long, it really held my attention and I never looked at my watch once. As you might expect and I have no idea why I know the songs since I have never seen the movie South Pacific or any high school/college versions of the show, but the big songs in the show were crowd pleasers. The girl next to me who had to be in her mid-20s seemed to know all the songs as she was singing under breath throughout the show (and yes it was a tad distracting but she had a good singing voice so it was okay).

"Nothin' Like a Dame" sung by the Seebeas was a delight and got the crowd going. Loretta Ables Sayre (Bloody Mary) rendition of "Bali Ha'i" and "Happy Talk" was so seductively done and of course, the big number " I'm gonna wash that man right outa my hair" was as is intended fun, infectious and quite memorable (I am still humming as it as I write).

If you have a chance, I recommend South Pacific and again, I am not a musical fan so this is a ringing endorsement.


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