Monday, February 01, 2010

South Pacific - 5th Avenue Theatre

South Pacific

5th Avenue Theatre

January 29 - February 21, 2010

Tickets and Information

Keala Settle as Bloody Mary and the ensemble of South Pacific. Photo by Peter Coombs, 2010.

There are very few Broadway musicals that can be considered as intimidating and challenging to produce as South Pacific. Since the original premier in 1949 it has not been revived on Broadway until Bartlett Sher’s Tony Award-winning production nearly sixty years later. There is an inherent element of trepidation associated with productions of South Pacific stemming from the rather touchy subject matter of the war and the racism prevalent at the time and in the show. It takes a very alert and trust-worthy director to bring this show to life for a modern audience and Sher does not disappoint.

Another challenge with this particular tour is the extremely high expectations regarding the quality of the show. After Sher’s production premiered in 2008 (garnering 11 Tony nominations and 7 wins including Best Revival and Best Direction) there has been nothing short of fanatic desire to see this production across the country. Fortunately for the country, we don’t have to fly to New York to see why this revival has gathered so much attention. As Bartlett Sher said before the opening performance, “the cast we have here is actually as good as the one on Broadway.” Not having seen the New York production I cannot speak to that myself, but after seeing the show here at the 5th Avenue Theatre, I don’t doubt it for a moment.

Whereas productions across Seattle have acquired a tendency to be as big as possible (elaborate sets, intense technical elements, big stars in the lead roles, etc…) this tour of South Pacific brings a breath of fresh air. Being a naturally big show – as any Rogers and Hammerstein show will be – it would be easy to cover it in glitter and star-power before serving it up to the world. However, Sher’s direction of this play is based on a very strong trust in the text. The set (Michael Yeargan) is impressive, no doubt, but not overwhelming. Most of the transitions are met with wood-slat curtains and beautiful lighting shifts (Donald Holder). The performances, too, are extremely rich and full. There is no pretension in any of the actors’ performances. It seems that everyone involved with this production took the text, loved it, nurtured it and let it take them into the world Rogers and Hammerstein wrote, bringing the audience with them. (Photo Left: Rod Gilfry and Carmen Cusack. Photo by Peter Coombs, 2010.)

Carmen Cusack (Ensign Nellie Forbush), Rod Gilfry (Emile de Becque), Keala Settle (Bloody Mary), Matthew Saldivar (Luther Billis) and Anderson Davis (Lt. Joseph Cable) lead this extremely ensemble-driven show magnificently. The chemistry between Cusack and Gilfry from the moment the curtain rises is undeniably palpable. Every moment of the show tastes of their relationship whether or not either or both are on stage at that moment. Their honesty and openness absolutely shine. Similarly, Saldivar and Davis carry their amazingly challenging roles with grace and power. Saldivar’s candor and humanity on stage is an absolute treat to watch and Davis’ freedom in his portrayal of Lieutenant Cable’s struggle is, to put it simply, brilliant. Meanwhile, all throughout, Settle’s Bloody Mary brings a gut-punch duo of comedy and sincerity that keeps the audience as enthralled as ever, sixty-one years after the original premier.

A special spotlight goes out to the stage management team (Brian J. L’ecuyer, Production Stage Manager, and Kelly Marie Furlough and Michael Krug, Stage Managers) for shattering my theory of timing for shows. On average shows in Seattle start six minutes past the curtain time, intermission goes at least three or four minutes over the scheduled time and the end time is always a little off. However, South Pacific’s overture started exactly on time, intermission was perfectly precise and the show ended at exactly at three hours, ever minute worth-while.

Tickets are nearly sold-out, so follow the link above, and get your seats booked now for the first tour of the first Broadway revival of South Pacific because it really does make any night a very enchanted evening.

Review by Andrew J. Perez

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