Saturday, May 2, 2009

South Pacific (2009 Lincoln Center Production)

The one thing better than watching a musical on film is seeing a live performance. And that's even better when it's a performance of the first Broadway revival your favorite musical.

When the first official Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific opened at Lincoln Center (in the Vivian Beaumont Theater) in March of 2008, I didn't even consider going to see it. First, because tickets were very hard to come by, and second, because I figured I would be disappointed by it in some way. Since I have seen at least four other productions and the movie countless times and know every word of the dialogue and songs by heart, I was sure I would find some fault in this production. Perhaps it would be nothing special, or worse, try to change or modernize the story like the dreadful TV version with Glenn Close or the revival of Flower Drum Song a few years back.

When the Lincoln Center production won the 2008 Tony award for best revival and the original limited run was extended, making tickets a possibility, it struck me that I had to see this production. In fact, it literally came to me in a dream. I found that a few local bus companies were offering day trips to see a matinee. However, by this time the original cast had changed with Paulo Szot, who won the 2008 Tony for best actor, being replaced temporarily. By April 2009 he had returned, but female lead Kelli O'Hara left on maternity leave. Not wanting to wait any longer in case they never played the parts together again, I decided to see the show this past Wednesday, April 29, 2009. The original production of South Pacific opened 60 years ago in April 1949.

This production was spectacular. Paulo Szot was phenomenal as Emile de Becque. His voice is beautiful, even better than the original Ezio Pinza in my opinion. Also, it did not hurt that he is extremely handsome. The role of Nellie was played by Laura Osnes. I had never heard of her, but she starred in Grease on Broadway, apparently winning the part in one of those reality TV shows. She was delightful, and at only 24 (10 years younger than Kelli O'Hara), is about the same age as the character is supposed to be. The supporting cast was also excellent. Danny Burstein and Loretta Ables Sayre, both nominated for Tonys, were wonderful as Luther Billis and Bloody Mary. Andrew Samonsky as Joe Cable was the the only casting I was not completely happy with. Although he looked right for the part, and his singing voice is beautiful, he spoke in a strange stilted manner. I don't know if this was meant to convey that he was a haughty, Princeton-educated blue blood, but he didn't sound like someone who came from Philadelphia high society to me. Liat was played by the lovely Li Jun Li.

Here's a clip from the 2008 Tony Awards (it's good for a taste, but doesn't do it justice - the songs seem too fast):

Courtesy of LincolnCenterTheater on YouTube

Here's Loretta Ables Sayre singing Bali Ha'i:

Courtesy of LincolnCenterTheater on YouTube

The sets and costumes were also wonderful. I especially liked the Thanksgiving Follies costumes made out of Life magazines! I do have a few tiny criticisms that most people would not pick up on. Lt. Cable is shown wearing aviator's wings, but but he is not a pilot. Lt. Buzz Adams (a major character in the book Tales of the South Pacific, but minor in the musical) is dressed as a Marine Corps pilot, but he was in the Navy. The life-size plane that was on stage for some of the musical numbers does not resemble any plane used by the US - it actually looks more like a Japanese Zero! Also, at one point three Seabees were dancing on the wing - you actually are not supposed to step on the wing.

All in all, this production surpassed my expectations and definitely deserved the Tony award. Now I need to buy the album for my collection of South Pacific recordings.

The Schenectady connection: thankfully there is no mention of Schenectady in South Pacific, but I did see it surrounded by people from Schenectady. It turns out Nellie was not the only "hick from the sticks."