|The squirrel and the bear|
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Musical Staging Christopher Gattelli
Musical director and conductor Stephen Gray
Set Design by Michael Yeargan
Starring Lisa McCune and Teddy Tahu Rhodes
Featuring Mitchell Butel, Blake Bowden, Christine Anu, Bartholomew John, Jeremy Stanford, Rowan Witt, Andrew Hondromatidis and Celina Yuen
Crown Theatre until December 8
What we have here is the Australian touring production of the smash Lincoln Center Theatre 2008 Broadway revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic 1949 musical adaptation of James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific.
With that pedigree, and all that talent, you’d be confident very little could go wrong.
South Pacific is more than romantic froth and bubble under swaying palm trees, of course. It had been only four years since US Marines were bloodily island-hopping their way towards Japan through the same dots on the map on which South Pacific is set, and it would be only another eight years later that General, now President, Eisenhower would order a division of the U.S. Army to escort nine frightened children to school past an angry mob because of the colour of their skin.
Sher is punctilious in keeping these sinister, painful things front-and-centre, and adds layers of his own.
There’s plenty to ponder in the story of the romance of the French planter De Becque (Teddy Tahu Rhodes) and the small-town flower Nellie Forbush, the heroic, doomed Lieutenant Cable (the handsome Blake Bowden) the Vietnamese girl Liat (Celina Yuen) and her mother, the souvenir merchant and pimp Bloody Mary (Anu).
But some things do go wrong, and it starts at the top. Rhodes is a gigantic figure on stage, but his presence, especially in dialogue, amplified and in an accent that seems a couple of countries east of French, is – I hate to say this – almost Schwarzeneggarian. McCune's clinches with Rhodes are like a squirrel being hugged by a bear. Some of her performances, too, fade a little, and that’s a problem in a show where her songs provide much of its snap, crackle and pop.
South Pacific is a mighty achievement and a great show. This revival has much to like, but, as tropical island weather goes, it was some degrees short of a heat wave.
Link here to the complete review in The West Australian