South Pacific is a triumph

Jan 02, 2014
The cast of South Pacific. Photo: Jeff Busby

The cast of South Pacific. Photo: Jeff Busby

Adelaide’s Festival Theatre has a winner with this season’s big-ticket musical South Pacific.

Television sweetheart Lisa McCune is absolutely radiant as Nurse Nellie Forbush in the stylish remake of the much-loved Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, set on a tropical island during World War ll.

Nurse Forbush falls in love with Emile De Becque, a successful, sophisticated Frenchman living on the island.  Opera star Teddy Tahu Rhodes plays De Becque with an awkward formality but his singing is impressive.  That big, generous baritone just fills the theatre.

These two stars are supported by a stellar cast. Christine Anu and Mitchell Butel shine in the key roles of Bloody Mary and Seabee Luther Billis, while Bartholomew John is absolutely believable as Captain Brackett.

The show’s pace and energy are enthusiastically maintained by the singers and dancers of the chorus, who all bring their own personalities to the fore.

Originally created by New York’s Lincoln Center Theater, this production has won multiple awards and enjoyed sell-out seasons on Broadway and in London’s West End; it’s also become the best-selling show ever staged at the Sydney Opera House.

There are some lovely details.  Michael Yeargen’s set design is a lesson in understatement; one well-placed palm tree is all it takes to set the scene.  Donald Holder’s lighting design is also key to creating the atmosphere and changing the mood.  And I loved Catherine Zuber’s costuming.

Stephen Gray led the excellent Adelaide Art Orchestra through a punchy rendition of the score.  The overture alone is worth listening to again and again.

My only criticism of South Pacific is that it finishes too abruptly.  Would a sing-along encore be too much to ask? All together now: I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair …

South Pacific is playing at the Festival Theatre in Adelaide until January 26.

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