Enchanted Evening, Indeed
One of the milestones in all musical theater, this Rodgers and Hammerstein (and Joshua Logan, too) classic from 1949 is so amazingly fresh and vibrant that it seems to have been newly created. There's not a cobweb in sight in South Pacific. Presented by Theatre Under the Stars, this award-winning revival fresh from Lincoln Center, fluidly directed by Bartlett Sher, is a stunning eyeful. The original show's grand bones are so fine, it would be hard to think how anyone could possibly make a mess out of it. The new adapters play it sincerely, which is the only right way to do it, and let it sing for itself. The sound of its music soars gloriously, full of wonder, unlike any other show.
This musical, with its adult theme of racial intolerance, is set on a verdant South Pacific island during WWII, where bored sailors and navy nurses are constantly tempted by sex posing as romance. And we're so captivated by the story and its perfect musical accompaniment ("Bali Ha'i," "Some Enchanted Evening," "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," etc.), it's as if we're within arm's reach of paradise ourselves.
Two couples intertwine: Hick nurse Nellie Forbush (Carmen Cusack) is in love with sophisticated French planter Emile de Becque (Rod Gilfry), who has a shady past that includes two Polynesian children. Marine lieutenant Cable (Anderson Davis) falls for island girl Liat (Sumie Maeda), daughter of opportunistic Bloody Mary (Keala Settle), her pimp of a mother. Contrasted against the romances are the comic adventures of Seabee Luther Billis (Matthew Saldivar), who's never at a loss for a moneymaking scheme and could sell sand to a beachcomber. It's a simple, rich tapestry.
If you're only familiar with South Pacific through that threadbare 1958 movie adaptation, see this thrillingly alive production in person. It's the reason musicals were invented. It's certainly the reason why this musical will never die.
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