Thursday, April 3, 2008

South Pacific 2008

I may be one of the few people of my generation who never saw any staged production, be it in summer stock or a high school musical, of the wonderful landmark 1949 show South Pacific. I have seen the not-very-good 1958 movie (given two and a half reluctant stars in Leonard Maltin's movie guide) and the even less successful 2001 TV version with a miscast Glenn Close. I thoroughly enjoyed the semi-staged concert performance from Avery Fisher Hall that PBS telecast last year. Brian Stokes Mitchell and Reba MacIntyre were wonderful, but they did not repeat their roles for this Lincoln Center Theater production. Oh, yes, I did grow up with the original cast album, an early LP (remember 
them?) featuring the two and only Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza.

Last night, I remedied this deficiency and came out singing—and even weeping a bit from Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot's magnificent performance of "This Nearly Was Mine." Mr. Szot is a real find: a matinee idol who has the voice, looks, grace, and above all charisma of the old-time Broadway leading men. And his final song is the equal of many an opera aria. Although he's onstage in only a few scenes, he walks away with the solo honors. Second, or perhaps equal, to Szot is the 30-piece orchestra playing Robert Russell Bennett's original orchestrations. And we have a real overture, and an entr'acte: much-missed relics of an earlier Broadway era, before the invention of the synthesizer.

Later: Kelli O'Hara, roundly praised by the critics whom I have just been reading, is indeed fresh, lovely, and highly accomplished as Nellie Forbush. But for me, she lacked the real star charisma that Paulo Szot projects. This does not spoil a wonderful evening, though. The likeable and gifted Matthew Morrison (I've seen him in Hairspray and The Light in the Piazza) was a highly sympathetic and well sung Lt. Cable, the doomed marine who loves the Tonkinese girl Liat. But the main thing about South Pacific is its evocation of a more optimistic America, as we pulled together to win the last "just" war in which we've been involved. The show dared to bring racial prejudice out into the open at a time when it was seldom alluded to on the stage, and the characters are all realistic, believable human beings rather than the exaggerated stereotypes then common in the musical theater. It ends quietly instead of with a rip-roaring finale, although as we leave the theater, the excellent orchestra plays us out with those unforgettable melodies.

And here's Ben Brantley's review from the April 4, 2008 New York Times:

It will be a hot ticket and could run as long as the original did. I wouldn't be surprised if they moved it to a regular Broadway house after its Lincoln Center run. But only if they can afford to keep that orchestra!

Update: It is indeed a hot ticket. I now read that the run has been extended indefinitely. The original ran for five years.

1 comment:

willow said...

What a nice review. And I am totally jealous. It is so convenient to absorb all kinds of wonderful branches of the arts in NYC. You are indeed very fortunate! :)